Getting Better All The Time
January 25, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
After stunning the series with the successful debut of Kimi Raikkonen last year, the 58-year old Swiss entrepreneur’s team finished fourth in the constructor’s championship behind Ferrari, McLaren and BMW-Williams.
The relative success of the team was also due tor German-born co-driver Nick Heidfeld and the Willy Rampf-designed Sauber Petronas C20, powered by a slightly older version of the Ferrari engine, which powered World Champion Michael Schumacher.
The debut of the highly modified C21 with an updated engine - called the Petronas 02A (actually a late 2001 season, Monza spec, Ferrari engine) - drew a full house to an airfield museum outside of Zurich, Switzerland. Also presented was Sauber’s latest kid wonder, 20-year old Felipe Massa of Brazil.
In the dog-eat-dog world that is Formula One, Sauber, at his most optimistic moment said, “Naturally, it has been the aim of every Formula One team to win grands prix, however, it would be presumptuous to set such high goals for 2002.”
In showing the new car, Rampf said that the C21 was 80 percent made up of newly constructed parts and weighs in at 22 pounds lighter than the C20. The gearbox is now built by Sauber to take advantage of the unique chassis.
Other visual cues was the redesigned airbox behind the driver’s head, which used to be round. In making a triangular shape, Rampf said that the team was able to improve areodynamics.
Also, the sides of the cockpit were lower to allow the diminutive Heidfeld greater visibility on race starts.
“Because his eye line was lower than the cockpit rim, and that means he could only see a car when a car was already in front of his car, this is really not acceptable,” Rampf said. “We have done it to give driver a better view without penalizing the aerodynamics.”
One observer pointed out that some of the rivals' new 2002 chassis also took cues from his C20, which brought a smile to Rampf’s face as he quipped, “We are proud to see that even the big boys are looking at our cars in details.”
Another detail is the raised sidepods that, after careful study in the team’s wind tunnel, do not add more drag to the car.
The team next focused on the positive side to the first runs in the new car, or in F-1 lingo a "roll out."
Heidfeld said that he ran 59 laps without any problems.
“I feel quite comfortable, it’s a little bit more stable, the change of direction is better, it’s just a better car,” he said.
He was cautiously optimistic about an improvement over last year’s results and said that was not dependent on the big three teams being eliminated in F-1’s version of NASCAR’s “the big one,” only they call it “a chaos race.”
“If it’s a chaos race we have a good chance to get into the points or even win a chaos race,” yet on the other hand, he continued, “I think we are able to make points if it’s not a chaos race like last year.”
Of course, the big question is the new kid on the block, Massa. With six wins in eight races on his way to the 2001 Formula 3000 title, Massa has a much better resume than Raikonnen did at this time last year. His least favorite question concern comparisons with his predecessor Raikkonen and late countryman Ayrton Senna.
Right away, Rampf is impressed, he said.
“The difference is that Kimi didn’t talk and Felipe talks a lot in or out of the car,” Rampf said.
Rampf added that Massa’s troubles at the open test in Barcelona came about because he was driving each lap like a qualifier. The team actually had to slow him down to get the right information about its latest project.
The team is hoping that the strides they’ve made with the new car will be an improvement over last year’s breakthrough.
Rampf said the team isn’t feeling any pressure.
“Pressure? I think is not the right word," he said. "Expectations are very high. It’s all good for the whole team that we had done a good season in the past, we know we can do it and everybody is expecting similar or even better results for this season.”