The Sauber Formula One team made a baffling and surely destructive move last summer, announcing that it would replace its Ferrari engines with objectively terrible Hondas in 2018. Sauber hired a new team boss at 9 a.m. on a Monday a couple of months later, and he called a 10 a.m. meeting to axe the Honda deal.
That, everyone, is a sign of a true and purposeful leader. Brighter days are ahead for Sauber, because it’s better to be at the back of the field than in the garage all the time—just ask the McLaren team, which finally dropped Honda for Renault engines after the 2017 season. Poor Toro Rosso ended up with the Hondas.
We’ve known since last July that Sauber walked back on its Honda deal, but we didn’t know exactly how things happened—other than it was the right idea to drop that deal and run far away, considering Honda has been by far the least reliable power unit in F1 in recent years. But it all looked odd from the outside: Sauber and Honda entered the doomed partnership in May, only for Sauber to abruptly (and rightfully) drop the deal and stick with Ferrari at the end of July.
From the inside, it was even more abrupt and slightly hilarious: According to Motorsport.com, Sauber hired Frederic Vasseur, who left Renault’s F1 team after disagreements with its other bosses, as its team principal in July. An hour into being the new boss, Vasseur called a meeting and tore up the new Honda ties.
“I joined on July 17 at 9am, and the meeting was at 10am,” he smiled, in an interview with Motorsport.com reflecting on his return to the front line in F1.
“For me it was important. It is never easy to change the engine supplier first, but Honda was not in a very good shape. Plus, and probably most important for me, was that we were linked to McLaren for the gearbox with absolutely no internal resources to do our own one.
“I was convinced, as I had some contacts at McLaren, that they would do their best to leave. So I could not be in a position to risk that. Imagine today if I had to request the Honda gearbox from McLaren. It would be an absolute nightmare. ...”
Getting that Honda gearbox would have been a nightmare, sure, but the engine would’ve been even worse—coupled with the desperate cries from Honda to just please, please give them one more week to make things better. Yikes.
We wouldn’t have seen much of the Honda engines anyway, since Sauber scored a total of five championship points between its drivers in 2017 compared to the leading Mercedes team’s 668 points. Sauber tends to hang at the back. Still, it’s good to hear that Sauber’s new boss wasn’t about to tip toe around the topic of how bad Honda’s F1 engines are, even if his team needs to improve as well.
Tell it like it is, Vasseur. Everyone, especially the race team, is better for it.