Vasseur: We have to be realistic, it will take time

In the wake of a strong performance in pre-season testing, some believe that Sauber, like Haas, the other Ferrari-supplied team, heads to Melbourne as one of the dark horses.

Though nobody is expecting either to be challenging Red Bull far less Mercedes, there is a feeling that the Swiss outfit could be in the fight for supremacy in the midfield.

The restructuring of the team last year, which saw the departure of Monisha Kaltenborn, is seen as a re-birth for the Swiss outfit that first entered F1 in 1993, subsequently bringing Mercedes back to F1 almost forty years after it quit in the wake of the Le Mans disaster. Other than a change of ownership, the team has a title partnership with Alfa Romeo, which team boss Frederic Vasseur sees as part of a long-term project for the Hinwil based outfit.

“The target for us is to come back into the pace of the midfield,” he told the official F1 website.

“We are far away,” he admitted. “We were very far away last year. The first step for us would be to catch up the field. When we catch up we will be more and more attractive for the engineers, for the drivers, for everybody.”

The Frenchman cites Mercedes and Red Bull as teams that took several years to finally get everything in place.

“You can’t build up a team immediately,” he said. “If you have a look at other projects like Red Bull ten years ago, Mercedes seven years ago, it took time for them to be able to fight for championships and to win.

“In Mercedes‘ case, they took over Brawn who was world champion. It took five years to become world champion again.

“We have started at the back and far away at the back,” he continued. “We have to be realistic. I know perfectly that it will take time to deliver and to improve. I don’t want to say that we don’t have to deliver next week. We have to be better next week than today. We have to be better in Bahrain than in Melbourne.

“It’s going to be a mid-term project to be in the midfield, it won’t be in one year or two years. Look at Force India for a good reference and a good project. They were more than at the back. They built up something very strong. They were consistently fifth, fourth in the last two or three seasons. But it took ten years for them to be at this pace.”

Much like Renault – ironic at a time there is much talk of budget caps – Sauber is looking to increase its headcount.

“We moved up from 320 to more or less 400 today and then to 450 perhaps during this season,” he said. “It’s not easy, and you have to do it step by step. You have to eat and digest and eat and digest. You have to take 20 guys and reorganise a bit the company, then 20 guys more. We have to do it step by step. Renault did it in the last 18 months and we will be able to do it in the future.”