The new Sauber C16 was
today launched in a rather eerie fashion with not a
single member of the press present. Instead, down the
telephone lines of a thousand journalists all over
the world the disembodied words of Team manager Peter
Sauber, designer Leo Ress, Team Director Max Welti,
Head of engine development Osamu Goto and the two
drivers, Englishman Johnny Herbert and Italian Nicola Larini,
appeared on glowing TV monitors in 20 different countries.
This is not the first time that the Internet has been used
to launch a car, Ferrari launched on line last
year complete with live pictures of the car. At this
event today however, there was no car, just a rather
dull looking group of people sitting at a modernish
desk, cans of Red Bull to the fore. The
ever-so-slowly changing pictures didnt really
add to the rather frustrating atmosphere of the event
and the questions via the standard Internet protocol
of IRC were not exactly thick and fast and
mostly seemed to be in German.
With the help of a
downloadable press release and what questions one
could decipher, one got the general gist of the occasion
and some information however scant, about the car
When asked to describe
the latest creation of his design team in comparison
to the previous model, Chief Designer Leo Ress gave a
simple answer: "Even smaller and slimmer, even a
little bit more compact."
Indeed the Red
Bull-Sauber-Petronas C16, is significantly narrower
in the front area. Following the latest trend the
front nose box with the integrated crash structure
has been made even higher and narrower. Some visible
changes have been made in the cockpit area which is
also narrower around the side crash structure. And
the lower cockpit side design is a result of the
aerodynamic findings of last season. It aims to improve
the air flow in the airbox area from where the engine receives
the air it needs.
The rear of the car
has not been spared from the general slimming diet.
It is also narrower. Further significant changes are
the so-called rear wings improving downforce which
have been placed between the side pods and rear tyres,
a place designated by the new FIA Technical Regulations.
modifications are the result of weeks of meticulous aerodynamic
work on a 50% scale model of the C16 in the wind
tunnel at the Swiss National Airplane Works in Emmen/Switzerland,
having a rolling road in order to simulate the air
flow between the road surface and the cars undertray.
All this can be
considered normal in the development of a new race
car. But the engine decision (the supply of 96 version Ferrari
V10 engines) which was taken as late as November
1996 dictated a construction and fabrication schedule
for the cars which can be compared to an emergency
operation. "From the designers point of
view simply a nightmare," Leo Ress confesses.
"From the drivers seatback, up to the rear
light, our work was sometimes a gamble."
However, for Team Red Bull-Sauber-Petronas the two-year
contract with the traditional Italian race outfit secures
the access to highly modern engine technology based
on Ferraris experience.
It wasnt until
December that all designers and engine specialists
could hold their first meeting. With the information
received there they start working through their long
list of tasks. Everything in the Red Bull-Sauber-Petronas
C16 situated behind the driver had to be defined and
constructed in the shortest possible time.
"On January 20,
1997 we completed the last drawings for the larger
parts. When the last small details were designed and
finalized, it was already the end of January,"
remembers Leo Ress clearly, in this extraordinary
race against time.
What remains are the
designers worries that everything will function
reliably and without any major problems at the first races
of the season. But for the design team one thing is
for sure: For the first time since their Formula One
debut in the 1993 season Team Red
Bull-Sauber-Petronas will not have to build a car
around a completely new engine for next year.
Due to the nature of
the medium, the questions fielded were inevitably
fairly simplistic, however a few quotes were worthy of
mention. When Osamu Goto was asked about engine supply
he said "Taking into consideration that
you will need 2 new engines for each race, it will be
a total of between 30 and 40 engines." He added,
"We will propose some changes to the engine
because we have some ideas. Everything will be done
together with Ferrari."
This reporter asked
Leo Ross whether he had considered Bridgestone
tyres as part of what must be now, a rather hurried
test programme due to the tardiness of the cars launch.
He said "Indeed due to the time left our test schedule
is a very tight one. We will have to work very hard to
catch up on testing mileage. The plan is to shake
down the car from tomorrow in Fiorano and
hopefully to do a second test next week in Barcelona,
however our contract with Goodyear includes
the 1997 season and we will fulfill this contract.
Obviously we are following the situation on the tyre
The drivers seemed a
bit extraneous not being able to talk about their
cars. I asked Johnny Herbert about his aspirations
for the season. He was sensibly conservative in saying,
"For the first year with the new engine it is
more important to get a good understanding for Mr.
Ress and Mr. Goto to further develop the car. It is
very difficult to finish in the top five, but that is
what we all are aiming for. I think we have a very
good opportunity to join the big teams. Our package
should be strong and as the season progresses we can
consistently get more points."
A final word or two
was said by Team manager Peter Sauber before the plug
was pulled on the session. "For us this (Ferrari)
agreement signifies the most important step ever since
we decided to enter Formula One." He said,
"Not only have we got an absolutely competitive
engine for the 1997 season that bears comparison, but
we now also acquire engine competence thus finally
allowing us to plan strategically in this area."
Sauber do indeed seem
to have a great package and even before the car turns
a wheel its digital launch gave the green
light for unbridled optimism for the coming season.
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