Sauber trying to help Zhou Guanyu is “something that we are working on” as “he doesn’t feel confident” in F1 C44 car — Pujolar

Photo Credit: Sauber
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Sauber F1’s racing director Xevi Pujolar spoke post-race after Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix about why the team’s Chinese racer Zhou Guanyu is struggling so much with the C44 compared to teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Everyone knows that in motorsport, the first target a driver must achieve is being able to beat his teammate. Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu are both pointless in the 2024 F1 Drivers’ Championship. However, so far, there has been a significant gap in performance between the two drivers – especially in the qualifying at the last two races.

Monaco saw Bottas record a qualifying time of 1:12.512 compared to Guanyu’s with 1:13.028. This trend continued in Montreal with a 1:13.366 for Bottas and a 1:14.292 for Guanyu. It’s 9-0 in Grand Prix qualifying for the Finn.

Come race day, in Canada, both drivers were required to start from the pit lane after cars were modified whilst under Parc Ferme conditions. Bottas crossed the line P13 and +40.487s behind race winner Max Verstappen, whereas the Shanghai born driver finished a lap down to the 3-time F1 Drivers’ Champion.

Due to such statistics, the Spaniard was asked why there is such a big difference at the moment.

“That is something that we are working on it and we did a bit of work before the start of this weekend, but it still hasn’t been successful,” admitted Pujolar. “So, we will try again for Barcelona. We just need to discuss next week at the factory, see what we can do to help him. For sure he doesn’t feel confident in the car.

“Something that has been maybe since the beginning or towards the end of last year, and this year, maybe on the direction that we have taken, it’s a bit more difficult for him to extract all the performance. That is something that we are trying to see what we can do to help on that side.”

A problem can only start to be solved if the cause of it can be identified so Pujolar was then asked as to where the team are seeing the 25-year-old lose the biggest amount of time.

Previously, Pujolar had said that his Chinese driver is struggling for confidence. This seems most visual on Guanyu’s approach to entering corners.

Therefore, what is the thing that the team needs to give him to be able to get that speed out of himself?

“That is what we are trying to understand,” Pujolar said on the matter. “What does he need to get his confidence on the braking and attacking the corners? Something that in the past has been reasonably okay, but for some reason he has been struggling more and more.

“For sure that the last tracks when you go to this place, because you have got in terms of grip, kerbs, walls, Monaco, it is also a tricky one.”

However, it may not all be doom and gloom for the Chinese record breaker as Pujolar also indicated that the team anticipate a far different run of races during the upcoming European section of the season.

As well as his F1 experience, the former F2 driver has plenty of knowledge of the upcoming circuits ahead of the summer break from his junior formula days.

“I think when we go to Barcelona, already it will be different,” Pujolar claimed.“So, I think it will be a good point to see if we can reset and get back to both drivers on the same level.

“But obviously we will try to apply some changes on our side to see if we can help him as much as possible, because we want both drivers to be performing at the same level.”

Photo Credit: Sauber

Guanyu’s struggles with the C44 are not lost on the Chinese driver. In Thursday’s media session at Montreal, ahead of what would prove to be another unsuccessful race weekend with two crashes, he commented on his performance compared to his teammate.

It was stated to the 25-year-old – though he did not need reminding — that Bottas has the edge on him in qualifying, so is there anything he can work on specifically?

“Yeah, we are trying to already, especially after last weekend, to understand, because clearly, with the car we had this year, for me, it’s hurting a little bit, with the way my driving style is,” explained Guanyu. “So, racecraft is very different, I mean, than the one-lap pace, I’m really struggling putting a lap together, and having the confidence to attack on the corner entries.

“So, we’re trying to find a way around it, but for me, I had a very, let’s say, deep meeting with the team, after Monaco and before this weekend, to see where I want to go in my direction, because I feel like I need to go a different direction, to be able to have the performance back to what I know.

“Which, yeah, on some days [Sunday], it seems to me, I have the upper hand to him, but Saturday, I’ve really been struggling with one-lap.”

Guanyu went on to explain in greater detail the differences between his driving style and that of his teammate. This was in response to being asked as to what the limitation is that’s stopping him from driving the way he wants.

“Yeah, I mean, I think Valtteri is a bit more – the way he drives, the way he attacks the brakes – it’s a lot more smooth than what I do,” he admitted. “So, of course, that’s kind of my driving style is, and yeah, with the bumpiness of the tracks we go to so far, and also the non-European races that we went to, lower grip, I think, with his driving style, it’s definitely helped him a lot.

“And for me, this year seems to be like, with the similar driving style I had the last few years, it doesn’t really help me for this year, the package we have, so it seems to be, have more like a weakness on that side of things.

“So, I’m trying to, of course, work my way around it, together with the team, and try to solve that, so I feel more comfortable to attack in the car, over one-lap maybe,” he concluded on this issue.

It was clear in the days that followed that team are yet to work their way around the issue as Bottas outqualified Guanyu once again by almost a second.

With both unconfirmed for the 2025 F1 season, the teammate battle is surely set to be an intense one until all the ink on the contracts is dry and there are no more seats on the grid available.  

Due to the closeness of the midfield and the current performance of the C44, if either driver manages to score a point during a race weekend, they may stay ahead of the other in the standings for the rest of the campaign.