Abu Dhabi: As a youngster she dreamed of being an astronaut, but fate had other things in store for Monisha Kaltenborn and the Indian instead went on to become the first and so far only team principal in the highly competitive world of Formula One.
It was around the turn of the century that things began to change for the current Sauber boss, who was born Monisha Narang in Dehradun in 1971. Her big break came when Sauber and Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz asked her to take charge of the team’s corporate and legal affairs. By 2000, she had risen to being the head of the team’s legal department.
Kaltenborn then became a member of Sauber’s management board and, in early 2010, following the team’s return to independent status following the withdrawal of former partner BMW, the lawyer was appointed CEO of Sauber Motorsport AG.
Last year she was handed a 33.3 per cent stake in Sauber by founder and then-team principal Peter Sauber, before in October Kaltenborn, who is known for her hands-on approach and clear decision-making, took over the top job herself.
“It’s important to have one’s feet on the ground, no matter what the situation is,” Kaltenborn told Gulf News. “It’s been a tough year for the team in many ways. Some media has been negative and daunting and I have never understood why they have to be personal and intimidating. But I have learnt to cope with such situations and learn even more to keep my patience. One definitely grows from these experiences.
“It was such an emotional year for me last season following the hand-over and all that stuff after being pushed into the limelight. But I think through it all nothing has changed, either with me or with the DNA of this team. We are here to follow the footsteps of Peter [Sauber].”
The Sauber team has started to find some consistency in recent races, with drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez returning a run of scores of 10, 2, 12 and 14 in successive grands prix to take their season’s total to 45 points.
They missed out on scoring at last week’s Indian Grand Prix, with Gutierrez in 15th and Hulkenberg at the back of the field in 19th, leaving Sauber seventh in the constructors’ standings, 23 points behind Vijay Mallya’s Sahara Force India.
After learning from the day-to-day challenges of prospering in a male-dominated sport, mother-of-two Kaltenborn sees similarities between her current job and her childhood dream. “It’s just a question of perspective, I suppose,” the Swiss-based Kaltenborn said. “As an astronaut I would have been up in space and that has its challenges and fascination. But now as a team principal I am down here firmly with my feet on the ground — and I prefer this honestly.”
On making the transition from CEO to team principal, she added: “It’s just a little extra media attention. When I was CEO I could work in peace and I had the liberty to take decisions without being in the limelight. And even though the step from CEO to team principal was not that big, I felt the pressure. Suddenly it was all on my shoulders and I found that someone has to be accountable for all the mistakes, and that someone was me.
“But I am very happy where I am at the moment. I have no plans to retire from Sauber and, even if I do retire, then it will be only after I achieve what I want to.”