Sauber has finally pushed both drivers into Q3 for the first time in 2013. After a tumultuous season so far, the Swiss outfit finally has real cause for optimism. A view that was shared by drivers Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg when we caught up with them after their impressive qualifying performance in Korea.
After Esteban Gutierrez’s surprise Q3 appearance in Singapore, he seems to have found an ability step up when the pressure has intensified. But that self-belief was something that was bubbling below the surface for a while -as evident from his promising flashes of speed at Spa.
“Whether I’m under pressure or not I needed the experience to show the progress” Esteban insisted. “If you are not progressing then it gets more and more difficult. I knew Singapore it (the performance) was not something that came from nowhere. I knew what I did. I was conscious about it and I did it because there was a progress.”
Whether the breakthrough had coincided with a change in mindset was a topic Esteban was keen to eleborate on; believing that confidence can only breed more confidence and manifest itself in better results.
“When you get to a particular point and you are able to switch things into a positive, it’s a very strong feeling. It gets in your body and it gets in your blood” said Esteban. “You get hungry because you just want to do it again and again. It’s more powerful than anything else because you can adapt and react quickly, which is important in Formula One. We’ve done the most important step and from now on we’ll improve exponentially in a positive way.”
Competing for the second successive time in Q3 showed the Formula One world that the potential Sauber decided to invest in with Gutierrez was no flash in the pan, but Esteban says that excelling in qualifying at two new tracks was quite a different experience from Singapore to Korea.
“To be honest I felt a lot more relaxed here (in Korea). Singapore was very emotional. My realistic goal was to be eleventh or twelfth, but now I’m able to challenge in qualifying. It feels more natural.”
Esteban’s team-mate Nico Hulkenberg was equally convinced that Sauber had indeed turned a corner.
“The performance has been there since Spa but it didn’t really come out for me” Nico explained. “Esteban was good in Spa but we went down the wrong route in terms of set-up. But there’s definitely evidence of progress.”
While some teams have lost out massively to the new tyre construction, it doesn’t appear to have disdvantaged Sauber. When questioned whether he thought the new construction had played into Sauber’s development path and whether it had solved the Sauber’s troublesome rear end balance, Nico wasn’t willing to put it down to any one magic bullet.
“It’ probably a combination of tyres, quite a few updates and the car set-up, etcetera, etcetera. I think all that together makes us a Q3 contender” he said.”It’s (the rear balance issue) still there but we know how to get around it a bit better now. The first sector is stop and go so it’s about top speed and traction. If you’re quick there then both things should be okay. Yesterday we looked quick on the straights and that was confirmed today.”
Nico’s only timed lap in the final part of qualifying wasn’t as quick as his Q2 effort, but Hulkenberg was at a loss as to what was behind the lack of pace.
“We did one timed lap, but Esteban and I were both struggling with the tyres in Q3. Personally I lost four tenths from the overall grip from the tyres” mused Nico. “It was cloudy and maybe one or two degrees could’ve changed things. I think the track will change if its going to rain. There’s meant to be some rain overnight and for sure that will change the circuit. If it’s dry our aim is to stay where we are. We have one spot due to Mark’s (Webber) penalty but it’s not realistic to be fighting him. Our focus is staying in front of McLaren, Force India and Toro Rosso.”
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