Time for Caterham to join the midfield in 2012

2012 F1 season preview

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Vitaly Petrov has replaced Jarno Trulli at Caterham

Of the three new teams that entered F1 in 2010, Caterham (formerly Lotus) have marked themselves out as by far the most credible outfit.

That much was clear towards the end of their first season. Throughout last year they were comfortably ahead of Virgin and HRT. At times they even took pot-shots at the midfield stragglers.

But the fact remains they’ve been in F1 for two years without scoring a point yet. And they’ll be desperately keen to change that in 2012.

Car 20: Heikki Kovalainen

Heikki Kovalainen was largely untroubled by team mate Jarno Trulli last year, thrashing him 16-2 in qualifying.

His sixth season of Formula 1 will be the first in which he’s had a less experienced driver alongside him. He looks ready to take on the role and lead Caterham’s attempts to break into the midfield.

Car 21: Vitaly Petrov

Vitaly Petrov sorted his Caterham race seat out so late the team had already given Trulli a day’s running in the new car.

As with the Williams pairing, much will be made of the income the Russian driver brings from his sponsors. But he proved himself capable of delivering last year, scoring a fine podium finish in Melbourne.

The late confirmation of his deal leaves him little time to get up to speed in his new surroundings. But the team need him to be consistently closer to Kovalainen’s level than Trulli was.

Caterham CT01

The Caterham CT01 was the first of this year’s cars to be revealed – a minor coup for one of F1’s smallest teams. Indeed, the car broke cover a day earlier than the team wanted it to, as the first images of it were leaked online ahead of its launch.

Now that we’ve had a chance to see what the team’s rivals have produced, the car looks like a fairly conventional example of a midfield runner.

This is pretty much what the team will be hoping for and the C01 turned some encouraging times in testing.

The CT01 was the first new car to be revealed

This year the team have to get to grips with running a Kinetic Energy Recovery System for the first time. This should help them find a chunk of time they were missing in 2011.

But reliability will be a concern too – they had the most retirements due to technical problems of any team last year.

There are some significant changes going on within the team as well. Mark Smith has taken over as technical director as Mike Gascoyne has took on wider technical duties across the whole Caterham group.

The team is also planning to move premises in August, heading to the Leafield site which was previously the home of Arrows and Super Aguri.

Moving into F1’s ‘motorsport valley’ heartland will ultimately be to the team’s advantage. But could prove a short-term setback as their race operations may be disrupted by the relocation.

Nonetheless team principal Tony Fernandes expects further progress this year: “Now it is time for us to take our place as a midfield team, and we have everything in place to do just that.”

However he also sounded a note of caution on the team’s expectations ahead of the first race: “If we are not quite there at the start of the season it will not be for lack of effort, and we will keep fighting all year to bridge the gap to what will be a very tightly packed group of teams just in front.”

The team have made measurable progress over their first two seasons and are ready to do battle with the established teams. When it finally comes, that first point will feel as good as a win.

Caterham in 2012: Your view

Do you think Caterham will be able to race in the midfield in 2012? How will Petrov fare alongside Kovalainen?

Have your say in the comments.

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Image © Caterham/LAT

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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15 comments on “Time for Caterham to join the midfield in 2012”

  1. And good luck to them

    1. Yep! Really think this is going to be a big year for them. It definitely looks like they’ve left Marussia and HRT behind now, and i really think they’ll be dicing it up with the midfield teams and regularly getting into good spots in Q2

      1. I don’t know. Although they are clearly ahead of Marussia and HRT, i’m not convinced that they will be regularly getting in to Q2, although I hope they will!

        1. We’ll find out in 6 days :)

  2. There are two battles that I’m keen to see the initial result of in Melbourne. The first is seeing if Mercedes or Lotus can spring a surprise on McLaren and Red Bull (it almost seems a given they will out do Ferrari).

    The second is Caterham relative to everyone else. It’s pretty hard to gauge just how competitive Caterham should be in their third season. We have nothing to measure them against. Sure, new teams have entered the sport and eventually become successful but they had the luxury of much more testing available to them.

    I think this is the season where Caterham will definitely have to be measured against their position relevant to the nine teams above them rather than the two behind them. Last years performance strongly suggests so and I guess it’s flattering that they could be a victim of their own success if they don’t manage to score a point.

    Having KERS will be a massive boost, no pun intended!

    1. @AndrewTanner As a Caterham fan, this is a season I greatly anticipate. Increased funding, increased familiarity with the Renault engine, KERS, EBD restrictions and a younger, more-motivated driver should bridge the gap this year.

  3. It’s a big season for them, and I expect them to be towards the tail of the midfield, but regularly breaking into Q2 and giving Sauber, Force India and Torro Rosso a scare on some tracks.

    If they can do that, and score some points at wet or high attrition races, then it will certainly be mission accomplished.

  4. I think they will just like Force India in 2009. They will be good at certain track.

    1. Daaaamn, that’ll be brilliant, everyone was astonished at Spa 09 after all! I’ll be hoping for that to happen once to Virgin and HRT though.. *waves flags*

  5. I’m feeling more and more hopeful! We’ll see how it’s looking once they hit the track at Melbourne.

  6. They’re improving but I think they’re still at the end of midfield.

  7. Now that they have kers in the car should help them to at least constantly fight at the bottom of the mid pack instead of being constantly just little bit behind the mid pack.

    Scoring points should be finally possible in some of the more freakish races but it is hard to see them getting there without cars dropping out in front of them. The test times were not very promising though. Always last and but at least they did decent amount of running though.

  8. This team stands out for being the most serious team of the newbies! But I can´t stop thinking that it is ridiculous that they will have three seasons in F1 and in every single one they have had a different team name! Yes I know, they are serious and all…

  9. Well from the testing it seems that they are still a little bit slower than the other midfield teams so they need good development, reliability to take advantage of strange situations and smart strategies with good pit-stops to take advantage of other teams making messy strategy.
    They really have to up there game in all those parts cause the car ain’t so fast to give points without those being perfect.

  10. I wish them the best of luck this season, but I fear the midfield will remain “a tightly packed group of teams just in front.” Even if one or two teams have a poor weekend, Caterham will have to beat a lot of ‘established’ cars to take that elusive first point.

    You brought up KERS and obviously that’s a useful addition, but I can’t help but remember how much trouble it caused the established teams in its first season – compromising the aerodynamic package and arguably worsening the ‘clean air’ lap times even as it gave them an advantage when wheel-to-wheel.

    KERS technology has progressed since then and their unit is an off-the-shelf system which should be basically reliable. However those packaging issues remain and it will only add to the complications Caterham is facing as they try to catch up to what are – by now – quite old and ‘stable’ rivals with a lot of testing laps under their belts.

    I’ll judge their season a success if they keep improving their car through the year, and begin to hit the 12-14 spots with regularity. Any more than that and I’ll jump for joy, though, because I love to see a plucky underdog who’s prepared to put in hard yards of solid work and take the long route to success.

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