Drivers surprised by Sauber split with Kaltenborn

Monisha Kaltenborn (Gallo Images)
Monisha Kaltenborn (Gallo Images)

Baku - Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein said on Thursday they were surprised by the team owners' shock decision to dump Formula One's first female team boss, Monisha Kaltenborn, on Wednesday.

The two men spoke after arriving in the paddock at Baku ahead of this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix and had differing views on the background to the departure of the Indian-born Austrian, 46, who had been team boss since being appointed by team founder Peter Sauber in 2012.

"It's all been quite sudden, the last 48 hours... all happening," said Ericsson. "We have to trust the owners that they know what they are doing and that they have a good plan for the future."

It had been widely reported on Wednesday that Kaltenborn was against the owners' plans to favour Swede Ericsson over German Pascal Wehrlein.

Ericsson said this was not true and emphatically denied the theory before seeming to back-track when told that Wehrlein had declined to comment on that aspect of the story.

Wehrlein, a Mercedes team junior, also said that he was caught out by the unexpected news, but had received a phone call from Kalternborn - on Tuesday evening - who had explained.

Ericsson said he had not spoken to Kaltenborn.

Asked about claims that he was to be treated as the team's number one driver, he said: "It is completely false and untrue.

"It's very disrespectful towards every single member of Sauber F1 team.

"We have guys here who work day and night, both here and at the factory, to try and get this team successful again, with both cars and both drivers.

"For me and Pascal, it's been very clear that it's not the case. We've both been given equal equipment and priorities. It's how it's always been in this team and will always be."

On the same topic, Wehrlein said: "I'm sorry but I will not comment on this question."

Told of this, Ericsson said: "Ah, okay... I was sure he feels the same way."

The team issued a statement late Wednesday night confirming Kaltenborn's departure "due to diverging views of the future of the company".

"We thank her for many years of strong leadership, great passion for the Sauber F1 Team and wish her the very best for the future," the statement added.

The team had earlier issued another statement in which it contradicted reports about driver favouritism.

"The owners take strong exception to speculative and widespread media reports that our race drivers have not been, and are not being, treated equally," it said.

"This is not only patently untrue, it would be contrary to the team's absolute and longstanding commitment to fair competition."

Wehrlein said: "I was quite surprised when I heard this on Tuesday -- I didn't expect it... I spoke with Monisha on Tuesday evening.

"She called me and she told me about it and, of course, I was really surprised.

"She supported me so much and our relationship is, or has been, really good and will be good in the future as well.

"Monisha was very close to me, at one of my toughest times in my career so far when I had my injury.

"So she helped me a lot there and I am very thankful for that and this is something that I will never forget."

Sauber, who are due to switch from Ferrari to Honda engines next year, are ninth in the championship with four points from the opening seven races.

Williams have a de facto female team chief in Claire Williams, who is deputy team principal as her father Frank is not able to take an active daily role.

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