Sauber at 50: Racing Cars in the Spotlight

This year see’s Sauber Motorsport celebrate it’s 50th year, following on from our look at drivers who wrote Sauber history, we take a look at the cars that shaped the history of Sauber

Racing cars are a work of art. They are the result of fine manufacturing skills, attention to detail and the relentless pursuit of perfection: an uncompromising search for the best. Every car that ever made it out of Sauber Motorsport’s Hinwil HQ is therefore special, embodying thousands of hours of work, uncountable energies and lots of dreams: and to single out just some of the many that were produced over the last 50 years feels like an injustice. And yet, that’s what lists like this are like.

We picked 13 Sauber cars to put them in a special spotlight: cars that achieved special success, made a breakthrough or that represented a particular era in the team’s history. It is not a comprehensive list, of course, but it takes us through five decades of motorsport action, of Swiss commitment and of passion for racing.

1970: the C1

They say you never forget your first love, and neither can we forget the car that started it all. Built in the basement of Peter Sauber’s parents’ house and bearing the “C” denomination after Peter’s wife Christiane – a tradition that remains today – the C1 is the car that launched Sauber Motorsport. With a 1-litre Cosworth engine, the car made its debut in the Kerenzerbergrennen hillclimb and won the Swiss Sportscar Championship that year.

1987: the C8

The C8 was a special car that went on to write some important pages of Sauber history. Originally entered in the 1985 Le Mans 24 Hours but unable to start due to a crash in practice, the car, powered by a Mercedes V8 Turbo engine, went on to score a memorable outright win in the Nürburgring 1000km, in the hands of Mike Thackwell and Henri Pescarolo.

1989: the C9

Winning the Le Mans 24 Hours is an astonishing feat for any car; to do so winning all but one race of the World Sportscar Championship makes it even more special. Running a full Silver livery and famously pulling more than 400kph on the Mulsanne straight in Le Mans, this car propelled Jean-Louis Schlesser to the Drivers’ Championship, with Sauber drivers locking out the first four positions in the standings.

1990: the C11

Following up on the success of the C9 was always going to be a tough act, and yet the C11 proved to be another incredible competitor. Hugely anticipated for the 1990 World Sportscar Championship, the car went on to win all but one rounds of the championship in which it participated after its introduction at the second race of the season. It was in this car that the Sauber Junior Team, featuring the likes of future F1 stars Karl Wendlinger, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Michael Schumacher, competed in 1990, winning the final round of the season in Mexico.

1993: the C12

The C12 will be remembered as Sauber Motorsport’s first Formula One car – and what a beauty it was. In its striking black livery, the car cut an impressive figure on the grid at the South African GP in Kyalami, where it made its debut. Once the race started, it was its performance that did the talking, with JJ Lehto scoring points in the team’s maiden race. The C12 went on to score points in six occasions overall, resulting in P7 in the 1993 World Championship.

1995: the C14

Featuring a dark blue livery, the C14 was a pioneer in the design of safety features that are now omnipresent on modern Formula One cars. It was the first competitor to feature high cockpit sides, a key protection for the driver’s head, which would become mandatory from 1996. It was also the car in which Heinz-Harald Frentzen scored the team’s first ever podium, at the 1995 Italian Grand Prix.

1998: the C17

Driven by two race winners – team stalwart, Johnny Herbert, and Jean Alesi – the C17 has a place in the history books as the last F1 car with a round steering wheel. It was a quick competitor, which helped the team to a then-best sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship. The C17 also claimed a podium in one of the most chaotic races in modern times, the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, as Alesi claimed third place.

2001: the C20

The elegant C20, in its royal blue, teal and white livery, is remembered as Kimi Räikkönen’s debut car, but the charismatic Finn wasn’t the only new feature the car brought to Formula One. The C20 was also the first car to boast a twin-keel suspension mounting – a solution that would be copied by most other teams. The C20 was a successful competitor: 21 points brought fourth place in the championship, a new high.

2007: the F1.07

A finishing position of second in the Constructors’ Championship was the highlight for the F1.07, which proved a marked step towards the front of the grid for the Hinwil team. Finishing in the points in 26 occasions (out of 34) and with two podiums, courtesy of Nick Heidfeld, the car was a fixture in the top positions. The F1.07 is also the car in which future World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, made his debut at the United States GP.

2008: the F1.08

Hinwil’s race winner, the quick F1.08 is remembered for much more than that glorious day in Montreal. Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld’s 1-2 finish remains the team’s finest hour, but the 2008 season contender was an incredibly competitive car all over. With 11 podiums, one pole position and two fastest laps resulting in P3 in the Championship, the F1.08 remains Hinwil’s most successful Formula One car to date.

2012: the C31

After the team’s return to racing as a privateer, the C31 marked a high point in competitiveness. In the hands of Sergio Pérez and Kamui Kobayashi, the charcoal-and-white car claimed four podiums in Malaysia, Canada, Italy and Japan on the way to sixth in the championship. The 126 points accrued in the season actually matched the amount scored as a private team since 1993.

2018: the C37

The C37 saw the prestigious Italian marque, Alfa Romeo, return to the sport, with the team competing as Alfa Romeo Sauber. With Marcus Ericsson and a debutant Charles Leclerc behind the wheel, the car marked a return to competitiveness after some difficult years. It produced 48 points and a final position of eighth in the championship, but most importantly provided a massive confidence boost for the team, which would go on to score even better the following year.

2020: the C39

Somewhat intriguingly for this list, the C39 never drove in a race, due to the developing situation with the covid-19 outbreak. As the team’s latest competitor, however, the car remains ready to race – with the added feature of being the first car produced by the team in several decades to race in multiple seasons, as it will compete in 2021 as well. Hopefully, its results over these two seasons will grant it a spot in future list of famous Sauber cars…

Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN C39 unveiled in Barcelona 2020

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