Nasr gives Sauber something to cheer about

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Felipe Nasr shrugged off the legal distractions that have plagued his Sauber team with an impressive debut at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The Brazilian, who was unsure until Saturday whether he would be competing, showed he had a cool head as well as a fast car as he finished fifth in his first Formula One race.

He finished a long way behind Mercedes' race winner Lewis Hamilton but did well to stay in front of home hero Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull after a long battle at Albert Park.

"I have to say I was surprised with everything but I think the preparation was done really well over the winter," he said.

"Coming into a new team and getting comfortable in the car, I couldn’t ask for more."

Nasr was only assured of his place after Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde dropped his legal action against the Swiss-based team on Saturday morning.

A test driver for Sauber last year, Van der Garde has accused them of reneging on a deal to let him race this season.

He won the initial case and a subsequent appeal but dropped a contempt of court action, allowing Nasr and Swede Marcus Ericsson to drive in Australia even though the issue remains unresolved.

"We had a difficult beginning. I would say the most difficult in my career," Nasr said.

"To just keep everything together is such a big relief for myself and the team."

Despite his impressive showing, Nasr still does not know whether he will start in the next race in Malaysia with Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn refusing to comment on the case.

"That’s a bad topic, I’m not going to say anything about that," she said.

Kaltenborn instead spoke glowingly about the improved performance of the Sauber team, who failed to score a single point last year in their worst ever season, after both drivers finished in the top eight.

“We could see in winter testing that the car was far more competitive than last year," she said. "It’s the chassis and of course the powertrain. Ferrari has done a great job with their powertrain.

"We could see it coming up but to have this kind of result is like a dream come true for the first race."

(Editing by Alan Baldwin)

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