Herbert mirrors Sauber's problems

Motor racing
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The Independent Online
Motor racing

DERICK ALLSOP

reports from Barden, Switzerland

The cast of Space Dream, an extravagant musical currently pulling them in here, introduced Sauber-Ford's new challenger yesterday and, perhaps ominously, stole the show. The reality of the future for the team and their personnel is shrouded in uncertainty.

A presentation that should have been a paean became instead a dirge. Peter Sauber, who next year loses the position of standard bearer for Ford to Jackie Stewart's new grand prix team, apparently could not contain his bitterness. He offered the international audience good news and bad news: "The bad news is, Jackie Stewart cannot be here today. The good news is, Jackie Stewart cannot be here today.''

It was possibly meant as a joke, but it raised only a few nervous titters. More obvious were the embarrassed expressions on the faces of the team's partners.

This is a critical year for Sauber, who must convince other manufacturers they have the capability of competing with Formula One's front runners. Much the same task confronts their new driver, Johnny Herbert.

The Englishman claimed the first two wins of his career last season, yet the enduring image is that of a driver trailing way behind his team- mate at Benetton-Renault, the world champion, Michael Schumacher.

Herbert has maintained a steady flow of resentment over the ''preferential treatment' Schumacher received.

This move to Sauber - the alternative was a one-way ticket to the United States - has provided him with another chance to prove himself and, a month from the opening race, in Melbourne, he enthuses about the reception he has been given.

''It's like getting out of jail." he said. "I feel wanted here. In a way it's a step back, but I hope by doing that I can take another step forward.''

Herbert is conscious, however, that familiar problems could lie in wait. His new team- mate is Heinz-Harald Frentzen, another German and a driver some would have you believe is faster than Scumacher.

''I realise what I'm coming into,'' Herbert said. ''But if Frentzen is as quick as people say and I am close to him that will be something for me to build on.''

Herbert will have an all-new Sauber, powered by a V10 Zetec-R engine, the C15, with which to resurrect his Formula One career. ''This is an important year for me, for Ford, and for Sauber. Ford want to produce a good engine for the future and Sauber need to perform to get another engine manufacturer interested.''

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