May 22nd, 2020

The inside line: our employees share 50 years of stories

As Sauber turns 50, we spoke with some of the men and women who have been working for the company. From long-standing employees who have been through decades of service to more recent additions to the squad, our team members open up with their favourite anecdotes.


Anita Audemars-Zimmerli, HR and CEO Assistant

Back at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1999, the team had received a late batch of team kit trousers. Anita and a colleague had to travel to Imola to deliver and adjust the length of the trousers of each team member. One of the race trucks was transformed into an impromptu sewing studio.

“It was a very funny situation, because some of the crew were so sweaty and all the different… scents came towards me since everyone had to take off their sweaty shoes and old trousers! A few hours later, we went back to Hinwil where we sewed these trousers practically overnight and had them delivered back to Imola the next day, just in time for the race.”


Giuseppe La Licata, Storeman and Deputy

“I have been working for the Sauber Motorsport team for 14 years and it is still an honour for me to work for them. I work mainly in the Hauptlager (main storage) where I have learnt a lot of life lessons. I have seen most parts of the car in our department – after they’ve gone through quality assurance, they are managed by us at the Hauptlager. They get stored or delivered directly to the track. We are also responsible for ensuring we have enough consumables available – there cannot be a bottleneck. It amazes me over and over again how quickly the parts can go from drawing board to the car. This is only possible if all employees work together as a team.”


Xevi Pujolar, Head of Track Engineering

“In 2016, in my first season with the team, we had to score points at the Brazilian GP in order to finish tenth in the championship. The race was really wet and tricky, but we achieved scoring points, which meant we qualified for prize money at the end of the season. That day still represents a very nice memory for myself since I had been with the team for only a couple of months and, somehow, we were able to give the team this lifeline. It gave us a motivation boost as well as an economic injection, but the best part wast that it was a great result mainly since we did it as a team. My second great memory is the year 2018 with Charles Leclerc, an unforgettable experience. When you observe the growth of a driver from race to race, this gives a huge boost of motivation to the team. 2018 was a very fun and rewarding year.”


Michael Lehmann, Head of Suspension Design

In 1991, model maker Tamiya Inc released a model of our C11 RC car. Since we could purchase the model with a generous discount, many employees took advantage of this offer, pretty much all employees from the Design Office where I am still working. Immediately, C11 RC model races started within the office. Everybody wanted to have the quickest car, of course, so things almost got a little bit out of control: people started to exchange the engines, playing around with springs and dampers but also improving the aerodynamics of the car. Our chief designer at the time, Leo Ress, was the forerunner in aerodynamics, so we had to follow his footsteps. The models started sporting large front and rear wings – every free minute we had, we worked on the model cars. Our boss, Peter Sauber, was obviously not too happy about this situation. He wanted us to work as much as possible on the “real racing car” and not waste our (free) time with RC cars. When we had moved into our new building, where we are today, the new house rules actually contained the point: “Remote-controlled objects are forbidden in the house”. In any case, this was the end of the model sport topic for us and Peter Sauber was quite satisfied.”


Marialisa Ponzeveroni, Head of Aerodynamic Performance

During an aero track test in Vairano, Italy, years back when it still was allowed, we were testing with a young driver – I won’t say his name. At one point during the session, he spun and went off track onto the grass. When he got back to the pits, I checked the car and on top of the floor there was a lot of grass from the field. I took it away and suddenly I noticed that there were also some nice yellow flowers which eventually ended up in a vase of flowers on my desk at the office. At the end of the session the driver came back, and I told him: “Thank you for going out there to get this nice bouquet of flowers for me!” He blushed!”


Reto Camenzind, Chief Mechanic

“In the qualifying session of Brazil 2018, Charles Leclerc was already in Q2 and running in 11th place. Then it started to rain slightly, and Charles wanted to do another lap but he had not enough fuel on board, so he came in to the garage to refuel. We could not put new tyres as Charles had no new sets left. It appeared quite hopeless to set a better time in these conditions and nobody else did try to, except Charles. He went out with his cold and used tyre set and was able to set a better time than the run before and went in to Q3 in these bad circumstances. That was probably the best performance from a driver I have ever seen.”


Ruth Buscombe, Head of Race Strategy

“Since I joined in 2016, our Hinwil team has had some of our most successful races at Interlagos. Felipe Nasr’s precious points in that rain-soaked marathon in 2016 and Charles taking the midfield best-of-the-rest win in 2018, which was a real crescendo to a season that just kept getting better. The flip side of the coin to both of those races was that only one driver got to take home the points, even though both drivers had done such a good job that weekend. Such is the way of racing that you very rarely get a completely happy ending for everyone in the team. That’s why my favourite moment was our 2019 race also in Brazil. With both of our cars starting together on the grid, and the race looking like it could be a tricky one strategically, we were in the rare situation that we could do the same strategy on both cars and work together as a team of two cars to protect each other and increase our chance of getting a good result for both. Everyone had agreed the plan before the race, stuck to it and in the end it worked beautifully. In a race full of chaos and mistakes, we marched through in formation all the way home to finish fourth and fifth. I remember looking at the classification and seeing all the different team colours spread out in the top ten letter-board, except ours. After a mammoth team effort, we had scored 22 points, which was more than all but just one team! Some days are special, and that was one of them, everyone in the team was smiling!”


Davide Spagnol, Head of Systems Engineering

“I have many good memories from my period at Sauber. One of the funniest stories stands out. We were at the track in Le Castellet for testing. A mechanic from Ferrari (an Italian guy) was outside the garage, smoking a cigarette and then he came in asking me if we had a pot to put cold water into. He said as a guy from McLaren asked him this favour in front of the garage. I thought this was strange, as they should also have cold water in the garage as well…

Anyway, I gave him this pot and he filled it with cold water and went out to the McLaren guy. Shortly afterwards, he came back and asked me if I could come out, as his English wasn’t so good, and he had figured out it wasn’t cold water the McLaren guy needed. So, I went out to this person and he told me that he actually wanted to talk to our team manager at that time – he asked the mechanic from Ferrari: “Can you call Walter?”, but obviously he understood “cold water”. We were all laughing together in front of the garage – with this pot of cold water.”


Willem Toet, Senior Sales Manager Aerodynamic Services

“My story to share is the one about the complicated but successful times we had in 2012. The company was struggling financially and we were trying to make a step forward after two tough years (2010 and 2011) with just about 40 championship points. We were one of few teams to start the season with a Coanda Exhaust. I am a soft and nice manager (maybe far too nice, according to many) but I pushed and forced my people to put all our effort on development. We ended up scoring over 120 points with relatively inexperienced drivers and got four podiums on the way!”


Stefan Brülisauer, Team Cook  

“Shanghai 2012 is a special memory for me. One morning, as the catering team was leaving the hotel, I came out of the revolving door and got faced by a group of Chinese fans standing in front of me. The first of them came towards me with a pad and pencil, pressing the pen into my hand, so I assumed that he wanted an autograph and I gave him my signature. I jumped into the Catering Team bus and departed towards the race track. On the one hand, it was a very funny moment for me, we were wondering if the fan had been aware that he just got an autograph of the Team’s cook; on the other hand, it was also nice for me to take a few seconds to bathe myself in the glory that F1 drivers are constantly experiencing. With the little difference that there are many more fans waiting for them 😉”


Michael Köppel, Chief Mechanic Deputy

“In 2009, we did not have the most competitive car. We were in Malaysia and it was pouring buckets. We, the mechanics, had been waiting all the time on the pit stop position outside in the rain, just in case a driver would come in for a stop. We didn’t have a chance to see the classification, neither be informed about the race interruption due to the heavy rain. All cars had to line up on the starting grid line at that time: since the exhaust pipes at the rear were open at the top and the engine was switched off, I ran as fast as possible to the car to cover the exhaust pipes, so that the engine would not fill with water. Nick Heidfeld, who was in the car, came to me and asked about his position. I did not know the exact position among all the confusion and chaos that was going on, bt the last thing I had heard on the radio was that Nick was leading the race. So, I shared with him this information. Nick let go a little cheer. In the end, he was only second but I only noticed that when I saw him on the podium, as almost all radios fell victim to the heavy rain. It was the first podium of a KERS powered car – it was voluntary in that season.”