Jacques Villeneuve will compete in his home grand prix under a cloud of controversy this weekend, but it appears Sauber's financial future, not the Canadian's performances or personality, could curtail the former champion's F1 career.
Jacques Villeneuve will compete in his home grand prix under a cloud of controversy this weekend, but it appears that Sauber's team's financial future, not the Canadian's performances or personality, could curtail the former champion's F1 career.
Sauber Petronas team owner Peter Sauber, who is currently negotiating with BMW about an engine-supply deal for 2006, has publicly criticized Villeneuve for running team-mate Felipe Massa off the track in Monaco and, generally, the Canadian's lack of pace.
'Jacques too slow' - Sauber
"Jacques is certainly too slow," Sauber was quoted as saying. "We've all become aware of it - himself and us. He goes too slow and it's difficult to find the cause, but it represents a problem which we must solve internally."
In response, the normally-outspoken Villeneuve said: "I don't want to react. It's the kind of comment that can get you really angry and really have a negative effect on the way you drive, so I'd rather not pay any attention to it and just take it as humour. Anything of that kind that gets to the public shows a weakness in the team, and makes the rest of the team weaker. It's not constructive.
The Canadian said he was "surprised and disappointed" when Sauber's 2005-spec car was launched and seemed uncompetitive from the onset.
"It's doesn't feel bad to drive, it's just slow on the lap times, and it's very hard to pinpoint. There was Imola, which was good, and Monaco, where we were competitive, but other than that Sauber's the slowest Michelin car right now so that's definitely not a good position to be in. Apart from changing springs and anti-roll bars there's very little we are doing on the car," he added.
Villeneuve not bringing in sponsorship
Villeneuve has a contract with Sauber until the end of 2006, but the Swiss team owner has openly admitted that a lack of funding is keeping his team from making strides up the grid. An easy solution would be to hire a driver who brings significant funds or sponsorship to the team, something Villeneuve is not doing.
Liuzzi, Speed waiting in the wings
Red Bull Racing's Vitantonio Liuzzi finds himself in an awkward game of musical chairs with the former Jaguar team. With David Coulthard providing the veteran leadership, that leaves second-year man Christian Klien, Vitantonio Liuzzi and American Scott Speed battling for the second seat.
In the first half season shootout, Klien emerged as the winner over Liuzzi, based on points and performance. He will pilot the second car for the next four races and likely the remainder of the year should his early season form continue. That leaves Liuzzi as the team's third driver, except for the next two events.
Speed will get his chance to shine during the Canadian and US Grand Prix weekends. It's no secret that F1 would like to find the next great American Grand Prix driver to raise the profile of the sport in the States. Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz wants to create and fund an American F1 team and many see the creation of Red Bull Racing as the first step in that direction.
Earlier this year, Mateschitz offered up one of his current drivers - either Klien or Liuzzi - to Sauber as a replacement for the struggling Villeneuve. If that offer comes with some additional cash, it might make Sauber's decision about Villeneuve more difficult.
Hindwil wind tunnel not fully utilised
Up until this year, Red Bull was a major sponsor of Sauber and he admits a lack of funds is to blame for the team's lack of competitiveness this year.
"At the end of 2004 we had a fine car and the move to Michelin tires was another step forward," he tells Autosprint. "We were in front of Toyota and Jaguar and they have overtaken us.
Sauber admits the state-of-the-art wind tunnel the team recently invested in was not being used efficiently due to a lack of manpower and funds.
Sauber also admitted that his decision to dump Ferrari engines at the end of this year was partly due to finances.
"It wouldn't have been a problem to stay with Ferrari, but they made it clear that they wanted to make money out of it," said Sauber. "For years we accepted it, and Petronas paid for the supply... We have a duty with Petronas, that's why we are talking to other manufacturers."
Sauber says he hopes to finalize an engine supply deal with BMW "soon" but denied reports that the German manufacturer is interested in purchasing the team as part of the deal.
Original article from Car