2012 was one of the Sauber F1 team's most succesful in the Swiss outfit's twenty-year history as a competitor in the sport. As a result, the team has high hopes for it's new car – the C32 – to build on the success of last year's car.
Monisha Kaltenborn, the Sauber team principal, declared that the team "have very high expectations", and ensures that it's two new drivers – former-Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg and fresh recruit Esteban Gutiérrez – are fully aware of the targets that have been set for them.
As perhaps befitting of a team that, in some areas, is starting afresh, a new livery has been adopted for the C32: gone is the predominantly white bodywork of the C31, with a mostly graphite finish adoring the car.
Hidden in the dark grey of the carbon-fibre body panels, though, are quite a few design features that appear to be quit novel, especially in a grid that's looking incredibly evolutionary this year.
For instance, whilst the step-nose has been retained for the C32, it's not actually a visible component when the car's viewed side-on – two 'ledges' have been installed, in a bid to stop the airflow over the nose from spilling over into the sidepods.
Speaking of which, they've also been comprehensively re-designed: compared with previous Sauber F1 cars, they're noticeably narrower. Not only do they play a part in affecting the airflow towards the rear of the car, but Sauber also states that they were designed that way in response to Sergio Perez's side-impact crash during qualifying for the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix.
Indeed, so drastic was this design measure, that Sauber have had to throughly repackage the internals of the car, in order for the components of a regularly-designed F1 car to fit inside a chassis that doesn't have a wide a girth as the C32's.
However, whilst Sauber has taken a leaf out of McLaren's book and adopted a rear bodywork design that's not too dissimilar to the MP4-28's, the C32 retains the push-rod suspension geometry, instead of taking the plunge and adopting a pull-rod setup.
First impressions of the Sauber C32
With the success of last year stamped in the annals of F1 history, it's understandable that the Sauber team have pretty high expectations for their new C32. The Swiss outfit proved that you don't necessarily need the most technologically advanced facilities or the biggest budget in 2012 to develop a car that could score decent points, so there's little reason to doubt the capabilities of the C32.
Indeed, with the rest of the field taking what seems to be an incredibly evolutionary approach with their respective designs, Sauber will certainly be aiming to at least retain their fifth-place in the Constructors' Championship.
And, with the team being fronted by Nico Hulkenberg – who we all know is pretty capable behind the wheel of an F1 car – it does look like Sauber will have a good shot at replicating the success of last year.
Perhaps the big quibble is that Force India also look they can start the season well this year, even though they're yet to announce a complete squad of drivers at time of writing. Let's not forget, whilst he may have been overshadowed somewhat by Hulkenberg last year, Paul di Resta isn't exactly a pushover on the track, and we can imagine he'll make the most of every oppurtunity of overtaking the cars of the team his ex-colleague defected to.
So, whilst Sauber have obvious intentions to break out of the mid-field and conistently nudge their way into the territory of the top-tier teams, they certainly aren't the only outfits who have that target at the top of their "To do…" list: you've got the aforementioned Force India, Williams and, to a lesser extent, Mercedes and Lotus all looking to drastically up their game in 2013.
Put simply, it'll be very interesting to see where Sauber end up come season's end this year.