Sergey Sirotkin's preparation for F1 2014 pleasing Sauber but no 'pressure' on driver
Swiss outfit also mulling option of having an experienced reserve driver
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 31/10/13 8:38am
Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn says the team are "still convinced" that teenager Sergey Sirotkin will still be ready to graduate to F1 next year, but insists the Russian's participation in 2014 is not a pre-requisite of their partnership with a consortium of companies from his country.
Sirotkin, 18, is currently in the process of being 'fast-tracked' to an F1 seat for next season with Kaltenborn having made clear that the provided the current Formula Renault 3.5 Series driver obtains the mandatory FIA superlicence he will be handed one of their race seats for 2014.
The Russian made his debut behind a wheel of an F1 car in a demonstration run at Russia's under-construction F1 circuit in Sochi last month and followed that up with a test in a 2009 Ferrari, Sauber's long-time engine suppliers.
Sauber's intention to hand Sirotkin his debut at the top level in 2014 was announced at the same time in July as a key deal with three Russian institutions designed to sure up the team's financial situation, with the rising star the son of one of the firm's directors.
It has been suggested that the participation Sirotkin next season is central to the deal, but Kaltenborn insists the driver is only one part of the agreement - and they wouldn't throw him in the deep end if he wasn't ready. However, she is confident the 18-year-old is on course for F1.
"There are three elements to this partnership," she explained. "One of course being on the sponsorship side, the commercial benefits companies' have, one being on the technological side, which is a very big emphasis also - why they opted for us is also because of our track record like we had the partnership with Petronas.
"Then there is the driver in there but clearly nobody would pressurise the driver if things don't work. We are still convinced of him, everything's going fine, there is no reason to doubt him that he cannot do it also.
"But it was never a situation that if he was not there the rest is not there. It is three parts, so it's not really affected us because the partners we are talking to don't have as their primary target to get a Russian driver in there. They have their own targets as a company and that's what they are going to follow."
In the wake of Sirotkin's run in the F60, which was completed on demonstration Pirelli tyres, Kaltenborn said the team continue to be pleased with his progress.
"We unfortunately couldn't test on the first planned day because of the rain, so the weather conditions were not ideal to do that. But on the second planned day actually he did a very good programme," she said.
"He did just a bit under 200km and he did a very good job. We don't want to go in to lap times because they really don't say that much, even if they are good. But he did a really good job.
"The engineers were very happy with him. It wasn't easy to drive the car because of his height, so it was really physically also very difficult. But he did really a good job. We have a programme where we know all what we have to do but we just have to be a bit flexible about the dates and [whether it's in] simulator or not, or tracks.
"That we can decide very quickly - if there's a move in there we change five days or whatever. Our very clear intention is to get him in to Formula 1."
Should Sirotkin not be deemed ready to make his F1 bow come the start of the season, Kaltenborn revealed that Sauber are considering hiring a more experienced reserve driver as a back-up option.
"This is something which we also look at. We have several options which combine very different aspects with different drivers involved," the Team Principal admitted.
"So this is definitely also an option we look at."
However, following reports that former Renault and Caterham driver Vitaly Petrov - Russia's first F1 driver - could be poised for a test, or even race, role at the team in place of Sirotkin to satisfy their new backers, Kaltenborn, who was seen chatting to the driver at the Sochi demonstration, insisted: "Whoever was in Sochi saw that we were both there and since we do know each other we also spoke to each other, but that's it. Nothing more.
"I haven't spoken to him about his availability. I did ask him to be very open about what he's doing and then he told me about his trip to Mount Everest. That's what we spoke about!"