The signs weren’t good at Caterham right from the off and although they were still on the grid as the season came to a close – albeit only just – serious doubts remain over whether they can continue into 2015.
|Best race result (number)||11 (1)|
|Best grid position (number)||14 (1)|
|Non-classifications (mechanical/other)||11 (8/3)|
|Laps completed (% of total)||1,432 (61.51%)|
|Laps led (% of total)||0 (0%)|
|Championship position (2013)||11 (11)|
|Championship points (2013)||0 (0)|
|Pit stop performance ranking||10|
The latter owed his place to the money raised by the Kamui Support crowdfunding project he began after losing his F1 seat in 2012, to which his fans, and later sponsors, contributed over £6 million. This was a sign of things to come for the team.
After introducing his drivers Tony Fernandes said this was his team’s “final chance” to secure its place in F1. It didn’t take him long to make up his mind about their prospects: by mid-season he had sold up.
To begin with Caterham’s new owners were worryingly reluctant to reveal their identity. By the time they were unmasked as investment group Engavest the deal had gone sour. First a group of employees threatened legal action over their dismissal.
Christijan Albers, who had taken over as team principal from Cyril Abiteboul, left within two months, handing the reins over to Manfredi Ravetto. Then in October, following a bitter exchange of press releases between Engavest and Fernandes in which each blamed the other for problems with the sale, the Caterham F1 team was put in administration.
The Russian Grand Prix seemed to have been their last race, and it wasn’t a happy one. Suspicion surrounded Kobayashi’s lap 33 retirement and he later disclosed in a post on his Japanese Facebook page the team had been aware of a defect in his car’s suspension and, lacking a replacement, sought to repair it by wrapping it in carbon. “Scary!”, Kobayashi commented.
But another twist in the Caterham story followed when Smith and Williamson, the administrators appointed to run the team, launched a crowdfund with the aim of raising £2.35 million in order for the team to attend the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi.
They achieved their goal of appearing at the final race, although the crowdfund total was not reached before the deadline. Administrator Finbarr O’Connell – who succeeded Ravetto as the team’s fourth principal – said the point of making a return was “to show people we are here”.
“We’re not a blank canvas,” he added, “but we are an operational team that somebody can effectively buy an F1 team off the shelf and become part of the most amazing club in the world.”
While that may be true, Smith and Williamson’s connections to their chosen crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube, did not escape attention. Others questioned whether it was appropriate for a sport which generates billions of dollars to be contested by teams who are directly funded by fans.
If in the long run it prevents F1 grid numbers slumping into the teens that will be something for most to be grateful for. But not Bernie Ecclestone, who disparagingly described Caterham’s efforts as “a disaster”.
Although the team ended the year bottom of the pile for the second season running, their results on the track indicated they were capable of better. Their results compared favourably to Marussia, who ended the season ahead thanks to their points finish in Monaco, where Ericsson equalled the team’s best-ever result with 11th.
A conservative approach to pre-season testing allowed Caterham to cover more ground than any of the other Renault-engined teams. However reliability remained a major weakness during the season, and much of their trouble began with the Energy F1 power unit.
The team’s new owners tried a change of tack after mid-season. The car’s nose was swapped for a slightly less hideous version, and a simpler brake-by-wire system proved a particularly benefit for Ericsson, who had crashed several times earlier in the year.
The changes were even more drastic on the other side of the garage at Spa: Kobayashi was replaced by Andre Lotterer, but the World Endurance Champion’s Spa experience counted for little when his car shut down after he ran wide at Blanchimont on lap two.
Kobayashi saw out the rest of the season but after Ericsson severed his ties with the team after signing a Sauber contract for 2015 during Caterham’s two-race absence. Will Stevens, who drove the car in the Young Drivers’ Test at Silverstone, did an adequate job – although Fernando Alonso would not agree.
Stevens did two more days in the CT05 at the post-race test. If the team do return next year, they will likely to continue using the same car. However reports the bulk of their staff were laid off before the race, with only a skeleton crew retained for their activities in Yas Marina, seems to point the way things are heading.
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