Sauber hoping their pit stops match their pace at Japanese Grand Prix

As the Formula 1 grid readies to roar back to life in Japan, there are a number of storylines to monitor. From Alpine bringing their first set of upgrades to Suzuka to improve the sluggish A524, to the long-rumored upgrades that Red Bull are also bringing to the track, to the weather itself, some surprises may be in store.

Over at Sauber, there is one clear question the team needs to answer:

Can they fix what is happening along pit lane?

The C44 has shown decent race pace this season. At the Bahrain Grand Prix Zhou Guanyu finished in 11th place, and was in the mix for points throughout the night. But the first worrying sign came on a pit stop from teammate Valtteri Bottas, which went awry when the crew encountered a cross-threaded nut on his front-left wheel. Any chance of Bottas getting into the fight was gone as a result.

Then came Saudi Arabia. In Jeddah Zhou again was in the mix for points, and said after the race that he would have “comfortably” finished in P11 were it not for another cross-threaded nut. That issue saw the team endure another lengthy pit stop, and Zhou tumbled down the table to a P18 finish.

Sauber took the extra week between Jeddah and Melbourne hoping to address the issue, only to see pit stops pose a problem in Australia. This time it was Bottas in the mix for points, but another pit stop gone awry ended any chance of a top-ten finish, and saw the team summoned to the stewards after the checkered flag.

“As we said before the race, we had implemented mitigation measures for our pitstop issue, something that has improved the situation but, as we have seen, not completely solved the problem: what happened to Valtteri is a slightly different, but linked, issue compared to what happened in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, but one for which we paid a really high price and that completely ruined Valtteri’s race,” described Alunni Bravi after the Australian Grand Prix.

Making matters worse, the stewards hit the team with a fine after the race. As it turns out they lost control of a a wheel nut during one of Bottas’ pit stops, and that created a “potentially dangerous condition” in pit lane.

Between the Australian Grand Prix and the Japanese Grand Prix, the team has worked “day and night” to resolve the matter, according to Alunni Bravi.

“The team remains strong after some difficult races: we don’t let our heads drop, because we know we can turn this situation around. We head to Japan aiming to turn the page after a couple of difficult races and [capitalize] on the encouraging pace showed during the previous events to finally get where our potential warrants,” said Alunni Bravi in the team’s preview of the Japanese Grand Prix.

“Work has been going on day and night back at base in Hinwil to resolve our pit stop issues; as a positive, we had the performance to be ahead of our direct competitors in Melbourne, as we did in previous races, and that’s what we’ll be building on this week,” added the Sauber Team Representative.

In addition, like some of the other teams on the grid Sauber is bringing some upgrades of their own to Suzuka.

“On top of that, we’re also bringing some updates, the fruit of the hard work of our team back home, which will hopefully us to make another step forward and claim our first points of the season,” described Alunni Bravi.

For Bottas, the work back at the factory in Hinwil, combined with their race pace so far this season, gives the team a chance to make a big step forward in Japan.

“Looking back to Australia, it is never nice to come back empty handed from a race, especially as we were showing some real potential there and we could have scored some good points. In any case, that is in the past now, and we have a new opportunity to get back on our feet this weekend, especially as our race pace had been really encouraging,” said Bottas. “We are all aware of the work that is going on behind the scenes to resolve our pit stop issues and we will hopefully see results soon. We are also set to bring new upgrades here, so I’m very much looking forward to being back on track and making a bigger step forward.”

For Zhou, who finished in 13th at Suzuka a season ago, the Japanese Grand Prix is one of the best events of the season.

It also represents a good opportunity for Sauber to open their account for the 2024 campaign.

“As a driver, Suzuka is one of the best tracks to race on — and I’m happy to be here. It’s my third time racing on this historic circuit, and you cannot avoid thinking about the great races that took place here, the championship deciders, the big moments you watched on TV as a child.

“The crowd is also very special: the support and the dedication of the fans on the grandstands and outside the paddock is something that not just the drivers feel, but also all team members,” added Zhou.

“I want to have a good race here: Melbourne didn’t go as expected for us, but we regrouped as a team, and we are motivated to bounce back. We know we still have work to do, on and off track, but, as an important positive, the race pace we showed in Australia looked quite competitive, and I’m keen on working on extracting the most out of our car again,” added Zhou. “If we manage to place ourselves in [favorable] spots on the grid, and achieve a clean start, we have a chance to charge through and aim for points.”

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