Sauber has been an established part of the Formula 1 grid since 1993 and yet in some ways it still has the appearance and feeling of a relative newcomer. Its location and its history are somewhat unique compared to many of the other teams and despite its recent struggles it has tasted success on a number of occasions and even won a Grand Prix in one form or another. Sauber certainly knows a thing or two about being a Formula 1 team and has a plucky personality which has stood the test of time.
The near farcical controversy over driver contracts, having three drivers arguing over the rights to just two cars at this season’s Australian Grand Prix was perhaps a new low point for Sauber and despite a mercifully competitive showing at that race, the team has looked fragile and uncompetitive of late. The sport needs teams such as Sauber to give variety and competition in the midfield and all of the grid would be happy to see this team gain back some of its competitive showing of the past.
Swiss team owner Peter Sauber was a racer himself back in the 1970’s and designed and built his own chassis in order to compete in hillclimbing events. Given that motor racing has been banned in Switzerland since the tragedy of the 1955 Le Mans 24 hours race, his efforts were somewhat unique and unusual in his home country. He continued to supply Sauber cars to an increasing number of drivers as the marque moved into sportscar racing, eventually with backing from Mercedes-Benz from 1985 onwards. The highlight of that era was a 1-2 victory for the Group C, Sauber-Mercedes C9 in 1989 over rivals Porsche, in the process setting a new record of 248mph on the Mulsanne straight in qualifying.
A strong relationship made during those successes and an appetite for further challenges led Sauber to design and build its own Formula 1 car for 1994 with quiet financial backing from Mercedes. Sauber ran Mercedes junior drivers and Ilmor engines that year with the somewhat non-committal branding of “Concept by Mercedes-Benz” on the sides but ultimately Mercedes chose to go to McLaren in 1995 and left Sauber to fend for itself.
Sauber formed a relationship with Ferrari for many of the following years and has given drivers such as Kimi Raikonnnen and Felipe Massa their GP debuts. Sauber was bought by BMW in 2005 to be its works Formula 1 team and that brought huge investment in facilities and a state of the art wind tunnel. A sole Grand Prix win for Robert Kubica was to be the highlight however and Sauber bought back the team in 2009 when BMW withdrew. Life has been a struggle since but podium finishes for Sergio Perez have shown that the potential and know-how is still there if the team can get back onto a stable financial footing.
Where is it ?
Sauber is somewhat unique compared to the majority of the Grand Prix teams and lies in a most spectacular setting. It’s factory is located in the small town of Hinwil around 30km south-east of Zurich, Switzerland. Whilst unremarkable in itself, Hinwil is set in the foothills of the Alps mountain range and just a short drive from the shores of Lake Zurich. It is about as far away as you can imagine from the typical setting of a UK based Formula 1 team.
With motor racing banned in Switzerland there is not a vast motor sport industry around it as you have in the UK or even in Italy or Germany. Logistically this makes life a little difficult working at Sauber but clearly it can work as the team is now firmly part of the local area.
The surrounding scenery and alpine environment is however undeniably spectacular, great for skiing and cycling with Zurich being consistently voted as one of the best places to live anywhere in the world. In winter the town is completely covered in snow but in summer the fresh alpine air is a great place for outdoor activities of any kind. The Swiss are well known for their clean, efficient and high standard of living. Zurich in particular is also very expensive however and so this lifestyle does not come cheap.
What is it like to work there?
The setting and lifestyle of Sauber means that working and living there can be great for individuals and families alike. The team has fantastic facilities courtesy of the money that BMW pumped into the team in the late 2000’s and the factory has plenty of space. The wind tunnel is generally accepted to one of the best in the entire pitlane, being housed in its own dedicated building next to the main factory. The video below is the first in a 3 part series touring the Sauber F1 factory. On the face of it, the team has everything it needs to be a success.
Officially the working language of the team is English and there is a very international mixture throughout the company. On the shop floor however there is a greater concentration of Swiss nationals and I know that several foreigners have found it difficult to integrate into the team as the language barrier has prevented them from immersing themselves fully. The local dialect of Swiss German can be hard to follow even if you have some basic understanding of German.
The town of Hinwil itself is quite small but has plenty of shops and facilities for a town of its size. The factory itself is located within a group of decent amenities meaning that you can get hold of most things that you need during the working day and if not it is a short drive or train ride to the city centre of Zurich.
Like McLaren, Sauber is one of only a handful of F1 teams within easy reach of a major city and Zurich consistently appears near the top of the list of the world’s best cities in which to live. It is perfectly possible to live in this cosmopolitan urban environment and combine that with a job at the F1 team which is a major attraction to many. The cost of living however is again a major barrier with property and rent in Zurich being eye-wateringly high, even compared to London.
The future of the team is far from certain and has been on the verge of closing its doors on a number of occasions recently. Given the fantastic facilities that it enjoys I would be surprised if it was not purchased before it reaches that stage again but it is something to bear in mind. Committing to a move out to Switzerland with the uncertainty that surrounds the team requires an element of bravery but nothing is safe in this game. You only live once after all. The team has traditionally struggled to attract people for all of the above reasons and so now might be a great time to take advantage of that if you are young, free and mobile.
How do I get a job there?
Recruitment at Sauber is largely done either via word of mouth or from vacancies advertised on their website. You should be checking this and the other team’s sites on a weekly basis.
The geographical location means that for the majority of recruits, Sauber must consider relocation and they are well practiced at this. Initial interviews might be conducted via telephone or by Skype but prior to any contract being issued you should get the chance to fly out to Switzerland and take a look around. You’ll need to immerse yourself in the area as much as you possibly can and go armed with some well thought out questions as this may be your only opportunity to experience life at Sauber before committing yourself to a move there. It is also worth considering the time of year that you visit as the difference between winter and summer here is much bigger than it is in the UK or other European countries.
Integrating into local life as a single person or even as part of a family is also something you need to consider as the language barrier makes this much more difficult. A crash course in Swiss German might not be a bad idea before you leave even though many people you find will be able to speak basic English. The Swiss are rather nationalistic and do not bend over backwards to accommodate foreigners and immigrants from what I understand so it is up to you to integrate as much as possible and adjust to their way of life.
A job at Sauber is probably about as diverse as Formula 1 gets from a cultural point of view and very few people that I know have regretted a move there. It’s certainly not without its difficulties but as a life experience and an opportunity to get involved in Formula 1 it’s hard to ignore.
Where do I find out more ?
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