Midfield target remains an elusive goal for Caterham

2012 F1 season review

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The Team Formerly Known As Lotus transformed into Caterham in 2012. Their year got off to a shaky start and didn’t get much better as it went on.

It didn’t bode well that their attempt to reveal the first pictures of their new car in a magazine was predictably thwarted when the images were leaked on the internet a day early.

Caterham team stats 2012

Best race result (number)11 (1)
Best grid position (number) 16 (3)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 4 (3/1)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,189 (91.82%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2011)10 (10)
Championship points (2011)0 (0)
Pit stop performance ranking11

But they had the CT01 running from the first test of the year at Jerez. Jarno Trulli did 117 laps in it but one week later the team announced he was being dropped to make way for Vitaly Petrov.

Trulli complained he had been ousted to make way for a paying driver, something Petrov denied. By the end of the season Petrov looked more of a match for Heikki Kovalainen than Trulli had been the year before.

From the start of the year the CT01 was not as close to the pace of the midfield as the team had hoped. There were signs of progress: Kovalainen came out on top in a scrap with Jenson Button’s McLaren in Monaco and out-qualified both Toro Rossos at Valencia.

But thereafter the team slipped back into the clutches of Marussia, who demoted them to 11th in the constructors’ championship at Singapore. This was a blow for the better-resourced Caterham, which owner Tony Fernandes admits has a budget on par with that of Williams, Force India and Sauber. It also jeopardised the income they receive from FOM.

They claimed the place back at the 11th hour after a see-sawing race in Brazil. Petrov spun away the team’s advantage at one point but recovered to re-pass future Caterham driver Charles Pic to restore the team to the place they had finished the year before.

This was more a relief than an achievement. Joining the midfield runners had been the target for last season, yet at the end of year three they still found themselves scrapping for tenth place.

Significant changes are already underway with a view to improving the situation. Caterham’s season-saving race in Brazil was overseen by new team principal Cyril Abiteboul, the former deputy managing director of Renault Sport F1, who was appointed by Fernandes to give the team more hands-on management.

During the summer break Caterham relocated to a new factory bringing them out of Norfolk and into the ‘F1 Valley’ region clustered around Silverstone. The proximity to other British-based teams should make it easier for them to hire staff.

“On balance, we deserved to regain tenth place,” was Abiteboul’s verdict on their 2012 campaign. “Our results over the whole season were better than our nearest rivals and when it mattered we were able to seize the opportunity that came our way.”

However he admitted that in 2013 Caterham need to “make the sort of progress a team in our position should”.

Caterham drivers’ 2012 race results


Heikki Kovalainen18231716131814171917171415151718131814
Vitaly Petrov1618161719131619141519171617161711

Caterham drivers’ 2012 laps per position


Heikki Kovalainen00002211292019103509024118618312232477279
Vitaly Petrov0000001115101336648410421019217679279195

2012 F1 season review

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Images © 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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38 comments on “Midfield target remains an elusive goal for Caterham”

  1. “make the sort of progress a team in our position should”.

    Finally team has learnt to control its enthusiasm and talking little more sense instead of high-worded-never-achieved claims. Hope to see them giving some jitters to mid-field, specially in qualifying.

    1. I am already looking forward to them targetting finishes in the top 15 and a first points finish if circumstances allow, instead of “regularly challenging for points in the second half of the season”!

  2. One could use the data that is used to do the race analysis graphs about lap times to calculate the relative deficit to the fastest lap time, each lap except for pitstops, in case there is a database (multiple databases) that can be accessed in such way (have enough data points). (could be manageable with as little as php i think) That should give some interesting information about .. well about many things (overall progress, car characteristics etc.; but of course different tyre strategies would make it harder to really compare lap times in such a way; yet as an overall view of the season it could be interesting)
    Well, I don’t know, it’s just an idea, I’m not suggesting that these articles aren’t giving enough information, I wouldn’t come back to the site all the time if I didn’t like it!

  3. Assuming he drives in 2013, I really hope Kovalainen keeps that Angry Birds helmet design; one of the coolest things to come out of this season.

    1. Looking at the results I don’t really see any good reasons for Caterham to keep Kova. Maybe he is a great driver but he definitely didn’t do better than Pet this season. Who unlike Kova brought money to the team.
      Would be funny to have 3 finnish drivers out of 22 on the grid though.

      1. I did race by race analysis a while back and when you leave out incidents and DNFs for various reasons kovalainen had the upper hand in 5 races and petrov in 4 races out of 9 races where the results were comparable. Maybe some day I take a look those 9 races more specifically (lap times, 3rd drivers in 1st practises and parts used) but the trend I’m seeing so far is that petrov was simply lucky or kovalainen unlucky when petrov finished ahead. Looking at lap times and consistency petrov simply wasn’t near kovalainen.

        Kovalainen is defenately the better of those two in every way but if petrov can bring money into a team like caterham (which is effectively looking to be a meaningless pay-driver team next year with another bad car) then obviously the realities are what they are. Caterham needs money more than it needs anything else. Even if hamilton offerd to drive for free for caterham they would still take pay driver instead because at caterham they know they are effectively just bystanders in the f1 races.

        Personally I think that if caterham is going with pic and petrov next year they will have serious problems with marussia. Caterham may be willing to take petrov’s money for the next season but that will very likely mean in 2013 it will marussia who will finish 10th in constructors championship.

        1. Totally agree!

        2. Have you watched the season? Or may be just looked at leaders? Vitaly was better than Kova all year, especially at the end of season, beat him on races 10-7 and brought 10 place back to the team. He was faster in quals in the season end also. He was clearly better of two Caterham drivers this year.

  4. It never fails to amaze me that F1 teams or even the F1 world in general continue to hire Mike Gascoyne who has constantly presided over failure after failure. Including quite possibly the biggest failure in F1 to date, Toyota.

    The guy either has a stash of compromising pictures of key FIA/FOTA personnel or a seriously good ‘gift of the gab’.

    Caterham should just ditch this bozo and they’ll probably start to see some success…

    1. @psynrg Caterham moved Mark Smith into his place quite a while ago. Mike Gascoyne is now the ‘Caterham Group technical director’ but the nature of the role he’s playing in developing next year’s car can be gauged from the fact he’s currently making a solo crossing of the Atlantic!

      1. Of course, I forgot about that (Mike Smith) but I did need to get a moan about Gascoyne off my chest as do sincerely find it astonishing that he still has high level involvement in the industry in general.
        I’ll never forget that film about his work with Toyota (at the time based in Germany) where Toyota had to lay on a private jet for his commute as he refused to move to there. So much money and time wasted…

        1. Any ideas what that film was called? I’d be interested to watch it.

          I feel the same about Gascoyne, he seems thoroughly overrated, and it seems as though most teams have had a sudden improvement as soon as he leaves them. Up to Jordan was good, but then
          Renault: Leaves the team in ’03, two years later they are WCC’s.
          Toyota: ’05 was good, ’06 was a major disappointment, and results picked up for 08/09 once he left.
          Spyker/Force India: Scored a single point in their time with him, became strong mid field runners once he left.

          1. @psynrg Any ideas what that film was called? I’d be interested to watch it.

            I feel the same about Gascoyne, he seems thoroughly overrated, and it seems as though most teams have had a sudden improvement as soon as he leaves them. Up to Jordan was good, but then
            Renault: Leaves the team in ’03, two years later they are WCC’s.
            Toyota: ’05 was good, ’06 was a major disappointment, and results picked up for 08/09 once he left.
            Spyker/Force India: Scored a single point in their time with him, became strong mid field runners once he left.

          2. @marcusbreese, afraid I can’t remember. It was possibly part of the F1 coverage back then, would have been 2005 / 2006, looking at the workings of Gacoyne and Toyota? A reference I just found is about when he was ousted from Toyota: http://www.manipef1.com/news/articles/1872/ and talks of his commute.

    2. I’d like to see what Gary Anderson could do with them.

    3. @psynrg Not exactly…. During his spell in Jordan Grand Prix, he designed the Jordan 199, their most successful single seater, ever. His move to Enstone marked the team’s rise from Minardi competitors to race winners and when he moved to ToyotaF1, the team enjoyed its most successful (or least embarrasing) season. Yes, he didn’t make much difference when in Force India, but he was shown the door very early (he was opposed to the Mclaren contract if I’m not mistaken).
      Point is, he is not that bad. In fact, he may well be one of the best in the business.

      1. Fair enough but considering his much longer string of failures I’ve always suspected any associated success was just coincidence.

        One of the best in the business. Which business would that be, Legless Reptilian Lubrication Solutions Provider?

        1. @psynrg I sincerely apologise for confusing you! I meant the F1 single seater designing business and not the Legless Reptilian Lubrication Solutions Provider one! After all, this is the f1fanatic.co.uk and not the lizardadmirersassociation.org. ;-)
          In all seriousness, his one car in Jordan, managed 2 victories and 3rd place in the WCC. It is their most succesful one. Ever.
          In Enstone, the Benetton B200 managed 4th in the WCC, a marked improvement over the previous years. The Benetton B201 was dogged by Renault’s 111degree engine. The Renault R202 was 4th again, whereas the the R23 and R24 were race winners. Most people consider these years successful. I do too.
          In Toyota his TF105 was its most successful car. The TF106 was average. So I should say a success, followed by a failure? And the Toyota team was such a badly managed mess, that Gascoyne couldn’t save it. I doubt he was at fault.
          Then we have the silverstone squad. With probably no money, he designed a car that was able to lead a race (Spyker) and then in FI he had to leave very soon as VJ Mallya wanted full control of the team (and a Mclaren customer contract).
          Finally, during his Lotus/Caterham days, he built a team from the ground up. And a car. In 3 months. And they came on top of the newcomers.
          There was marked improvement in 4 out of 4 teams he joined and he created a 5th one from scratch. He is probably an accomplished Technical Director.
          I agree, he may have poor skills with lizards, but you can’t win them all I guess…

          1. @aetost: may I humbly withdraw as I haven’t been so convincingly silenced since I said Kimi was rubbish.

          2. P.S. Is that you Mr Gascoyne?

          3. @psynrg Emmm, no… I’m in all probability his fanboy… And now that I realize that, I may have to lock myself in the bathroom and weep from self-pity… :-P
            Still, the engineer in me has big respect for the man, mainly from his Jordan and Renault days.

    4. It is also my opinion that Gascoyne is not as good as it once seemed. He was a good designer before but for me once he was given more power he failed. He was put on a leave at Renault (Enstone) but probably because he had already an agreement to move to Toyota.
      He was highly rated at this time and it seems this became his downfall. His own goals were high and they didn’t deliver. I started to think at the time that Gascoyne was probably not as good as it was thought, but it is very likely that his work at Toyota was being undermined somehow…
      It’s spell at Spyker was not bad but it looks like he became at odds with Malya once he took over as Force India…

      He did very well in setting up Team Louts/Caterham to run as a very serious-looking team and building their own car but again he failed miserably in his own goals. Adn it can’t be ignored that he is again being moved to the sidelines after some time, as it happened in all of his previous teams since 2000…

      @aetost comments amde me rethink a bit about Gascoyne and he probably deserves more credit that I have give him in the past, but I still think that in the present he is a under-achiever.

      1. @bakano True, his most recent results are not his best. On the other hand, Jordan GP during the late 90’s and Enstone during the early 00’s were very well run squads. One could be able to work properly in a right environment. Toyota and Spyker/FI were a mess (for different reasons), so I guess that that may have taken a toll at his performance. As for Caterham, I have no idea how much harder was to build up a team, as well as competing with it and how many more responsibilities he may have had.

  5. We can analyse the team’s data and results ’til the cows come home, but the bottom line is they’ve been poor……very poor.

    Everything is in place for this team to have caught up the midfield. STR had a bad season, but Caterham never even got close to them in reality……..and compared with the likes of Sauber and Force India they would’nt have done any worse if they raced a go kart.

    Harsh words? Yes, but lets face it , they’re deserved.

  6. It really is time for Caterham to start performing. I’m quite surprised to hear that their budget is on a par with Williams, Force India and Sauber, if that is the case they have little excuse for underperforming this season!

  7. Caterham’s three years in Formula 1 have shown how much the sport has changed over the past 10 years. The technical standards of pretty much all teams have drastically increased – it is the norm these days to have a 24 hours a day windtunnel, with many employees studying the car’s aerodynamics with CFD. All twelve teams (including HRT) deserve credit for technical ability. And because these standards have risen over the past few years, it has become nearly impossible for a new team to establish themselves as a midfield team on a short-term base.

    One the one hand, we should applaude Formula 1 for having the most impressive technical line-up in history, but on the other hand: we want stories of a small team winning, leaving the big teams behind blushing – like Vanwall, Lotus and more recently Brawn GP. Caterham is a fantastic team, and any critisism on the team (or Marussia/HRT) for ‘lacking to make progress’ is simply unfounded.

    1. They pretty much brought the criticism themselves by talking big. Nobody in right mind expected them to challenge the midfield last year, yet in the wake of the Lotus Wars, they pretty much raised the bar way above their reach.

      1. being said that their budget is on par with williams or a force india, i think they are not using their resources to the full potential. mallya has been pretty reasonable with his claims, so with respect to caterham its the effort that is missing. just by having good budget dont win you races or even points.

    2. BrawnGP a small team? C’mon! It was Honda! Don’t get me wrong: they were my favorite team! But they were not small!

  8. It’s good to see that Caterham’s mouth stopped writing checks that their body can’t cash. Hopefully the changes to personal structure of the team will prove to be enough, although I personally think they should go deeper. If the claim (which by the way, judging by the history of Fernandes’ claims, I seriously doubt ) that they have budget at the level of Williams and Force India is true, than they really need to strengthen their staff and maybe bring some more fresh ideas to the technical department. If money is there, then there’s something wrong with the people.

  9. I didn’t really expect them to be any higher than 10th, but I did expect them to “steal” a point or two and I never thought they would come under fire from Marussia. They underperformed. Still, if the budget is there, they are going to get better. Heikki said a year ago that their biggest problem was their small factory, but the move to Leafield should fix that. We also tend to forget that this is a team that was non-existent 3 years ago. Virgin/Marussia is run by the very experienced Manor and HRT had a Dallara chassis and was run by Kolles and his operation.
    Still, if Caterham is unable to score next year as well, they may have to rethink a lot of things, even their existence.

  10. The future for Caterham is extremely interesting. Yes they might even leave F1 but the truth is that Caterham and Renault joined forces for the automotive sector, so in theory during next year we will have Caterham and Alpine road-cars being launched. If Renault buys into the Caterham Group (not sure if they did already) it means they will also have a stake in the current F1 team. This creates a huge range of scenarios where Caterham becomes a manufacturers team but if this is to become they really need to step-up their game. and it doesn’t look to be a problem of budget…

  11. This team is “all talk no action”. By the end of 2010, when it started with at least half of the personnel from Force India, one thought that it would pull away from Marussia and HRT and join the midfield by 2011, with the new engine, their partnership with Red Bull Technologies and with two experienced drivers. Even if 2011 was too soon to get an improved car, 2012 was when they should have challenged the likes of Torro Rosso atleast on a consistent basis or atleast could have qualified to Q2 more often. We heard often how the team was ready to join “the big boys” or claims on how big its budget is but 2012 rather showed its lack of progress since it had to fight off Marussia till the last race! Teams like Marussia and HRT have my respect to fight againts all odds like low bugets, lack of upgrades, sometimes parts and yet give a fight.

  12. I hope Caterham enjoy the success they are hoping for. They are a great team who definetly have the most promise out of the now 2 “new teams”. I’d like to see them break the midfield next year and challenge for 9th and maybe even in the future challenge at the front.

  13. Certainly it seemed as though the team lost the plot in 2013. My opinion was that promoting Mike Gascoyne out of the day to day role was not a good thing. There seemed to be a loss of operational maturity with the loss of him and Dieter Gass. This to me was a significant cost to the track performance.

    Second, the 2012 car was a step back from the 128. The aero team again produced a draggy low downforce car. This in contrast to the slippery Toro Rosso’s and the gripper cars ahead. The addition of Iley from McLaren should help, especially with the new car. The suspension did seem to give good mechanical grip and hopefully they won’t screw that up with the new car. Smith has underwhelmed and needs to either rally or be replaced. I don’t think Gascoyne selected a replacement with more ability than himself, especially in regard to leadership and this has shown.

    Driver wise, Heikki seemed to be quite beaten down later in the year, especially after Singapore. Petrov did not impress so much although he kept his prior car killing ways in check. Pulling the good finish out in Brazil was nice and likely the end of Heikki’s days in green.

    This new guy Cyril better have a lot of latitude and willingness to shake the organization very hard to get it sorted. Hopefully he gained enough structural leadership experience with Renault to make a difference. Testing will start soon enough and ideally the green team is thoroughly vetting their off spec performance for 2012 and flogging the new car in the wind tunnel. Otherwise, they’ll have yet another lacklustre year as an advertising platform. Which may in fact be their place in the grand scheme of things.

  14. This team needs james key. Thats a man who has left all his previous teams recently in better condition than when he started. First force india, 2nd at spa. Then sauber, this years car was james key’s and i bet you next years torro rosso is a marked improvement on this years. This would be my man for the job at caterham.

  15. These guys and Mercedes were the biggest disappointment of the season for me. About the only hope I have for them next year is that their new principal might help them out more than Fernandes could do, a wise decision. Pleasant surprise from Petrov to do as well as he did against Kovalainen and to see them take on Pic next year is an encouraging sign for future F1 drivers too.

    I expect more from them next year but I expect they will have to keep an eye behind them much more than they had to do this year.

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