The Nasty Side of F1
Felipe Nasr shared more details about his last season in F1, it wasn't pretty.
Felipe Nasr was recently interviewed by motorsport journalist Felipe Motta and provided some rather shocking details about his last year in F1. Along with him former Sauber mehcanic Thiago Conte also shared some insights. As the interview is in Portuguese it seems like English speaking media hasn't really picked it up which is why I'm writing this.
The Brazilian driver spent his two years in F1 with Sauber alongside Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson and was Brazil's next hope in F1. Sauber had started the hybrid era with a pointless season and were looking to turn things around in 2015 with a completely new line-up. Things didn't get off to a great start though, thanks to the whole three drivers for their two seats fiasco.
A dream debut in Melbourne Park
Felipe is probably best known for his brilliant debut and for his team saving/destroying drive in a dramatic Brazilian GP in 2016, more on that later. In his first race he finished an excellent 5th in a car that was considered to be destined for the lower midfield. He finished the year with 27 points, triple the amount Marcus managed. That placed him 13th in the standings ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr who drove for Toro Rosso at the time, for reference Charles Leclerc also finished 13th on his debut season in 2018 with Sauber, albeit with more points partially due to a more competitive car. His two year contract with Sauber along with the lack of available seats for 2016 meant he would have to stay with Sauber despite talks with Williams, Renault and Force India.
After a great rookie year the following season however, was a very different story.
Trouble at Sauber
Sauber's 2016 season was marked by financial issues. Towards the end of 2015 they were already struggling but in 2016 things were critical. No money meant their car was slow and would only become slower as the season progressed due to the lack of updates. They spent most of the season behind Manor in the standings with zero points.
Manor was ahead of Sauber in the constructor's standing until the penultimate race of the season
Fortunately in July Sauber announced that the team had been acquired by Longbow Finance. Not much was known about the new owners but it turned out that the parent company was Tetra Laval, which Tetra Pak is also part of and was headed by billionaire Hans Rausing, Marcus' main financial backer. Even before the acquisition they were already injecting money into the team to keep them afloat. Of course Marcus and Monisha Kaltenborn, Sauber's team principal at the time, refused to comment on Tetra Pak's relation to the team.
More than preferential treatment
The new owners wanted to not just favor Marcus but make him look better than Felipe.
Felipe states that he only got the 2016 chassis around the fifth GP while his teammate had the new car including the updated Ferrari parts from the very beginning of the year, the team didn't even have enough tyre warmers or new brakes for both cars, it was a mess and obviously it created a very divided garage. Unlike 2015 Marcus started matching his teammate's performance and people started questioning Felipe's talent. So far nothing unusual, a struggling team giving their number one driver preferential treatment, but things went far beyond that.
Thiago Conte, former Sauber mechanic put it simply, "They bought Sauber for Marcus". According to Thiago the new owners would only buy Sauber if they made sure Marcus ended up ahead of Felipe. New parts went to Marcus' car while high-mileage ones went to Felipe's. In 2015 Marcus would often copy Felipe's set-up, in 2016 this continued however to keep the owners happy they would sabotage Felipe's car. Between Saturday free practice and qualifying they would change an on-board element of the front suspension of the car (maybe the torsion bar or centre/heave damper or spring?). This would of course destroyed the set up, completely changing the behaviour of the car and ruining Felipe's performance. Felipe would still often outperform Marcus so along with this, the guy in charge of Felipe's tyre pressure, who had been at Sauber for around 20 years was fired, they forced him to somehow make a mistake to have a reason to dismiss him. To replace him the team hired a completely inexperienced guy who was incorrectly taught how to do the tyre pressures "It was very clear it was sabotage". Thiago didn't speak up because he would obviously lose his job.
An epic drive in Interlagos gave Sauber their only points or the season
Results don't matter
Felipe's 9th place in the Brazilian GP which earned him and the team two points, 9th place in the constructors was secured ahead of Manor. This meant around $40 million in prize money for the team, money that could have saved Manor. After this result a meeting with Monisha Kaltenborn and one of the owners, things were made clear very bluntly, "for us nothing has changed, it could have been you or Marcus who scored the points", they were not keeping him for 2017. Felipe claims Monisha's behaviour changed completely after she went from part owner of the team to suddenly becoming an employee and working for the new owners. He said "all they wanted to do that year was to raise Marcus' stock and decrease mine so I didn't have opportunities".
He did have ongoing negotiations with other teams for 2017 but Sauber's late decision to not renew his contract and the loss of his main sponsor, Banco do Brasil, meant things didn't materialise. In 2016 Brazil's president was impeached and the country went through terrible economic times, because of this the state-owned company decided to cut their support.
With a team that didn't support him, Felipe was on his own
Felipe now races DPi prototypes at IMSA where he was champion in 2018 and finished 2nd in 2019 finishing 2nd at the 24 hours of Daytona both years. Marcus went on to race for Sauber for another two years before going to Indycar. Monisha left her role as team principle mid-2017 season.
I have nothing against Marcus and I still support Sauber, now Alfa Romeo, they were trying to keep the people that saved them happy but I have lost some respect for them. I wonder what Peter Sauber thought about that whole situation. I do believe Felipe could have had relative success in F1 and deserved a much longer career than he got, such is F1.
Those reading this may think that he's making up excuses for his performance, that his mechanic is biased because he's also Brazilian and that we've only heard one side of the story, but both of them are now outside F1 therefore I see no reason for them to lie. Once again we're reminded that F1 is all about politics and money, talent alone is not enough.
If you speak Portuguese and want to watch the interview here's the link.
Let me know how you rate Felipe knowing all this and what you think of Sauber/Alfa Romeo now.