Caterham’s future doubtful after last-race comeback

2014 F1 season review

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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.

Caterham team stats 2014

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

For the second year in a row they started the season with a new roster of drivers. Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde were replaced with Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi.

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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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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23 comments on “Caterham’s future doubtful after last-race comeback”

  1. i do hope they find a buyer. maybe they need to consider uniting with whatever is left at marussia. anyway, it would be a shame to see them go, they’ve brought some colour onto the grid (especially as green is my favourite colour) which would most likely look very dull without caterham in 2015.

    1. How does having a team around that only brings pay drivers into the sport, is miles off the pace (so far that it is impossible for the drivers to even get into better teams) and has no chance in future doing any better… how does having a team like that in F1 make F1 more exciting in any possible way?

      Maybe there is some schadenfreude aspect with the backmarker teams that I don’t just understand. Like having one team full of guys in wheelchair in nba. Sure they will try their hardest and best but they won’t ever even score one single point. But dunno. Maybe it is exciting to have them around if they by some miracle get insanely lucky and dont utterly suck in one race.

      I for one won’t miss marussia and caterham one bit. I feel bad for the people who worked there. But at the same time if you want to have small useless teams in f1 you need to accept that most of the time they fail leaving a trail of unemployed people, debts and bad pr for f1 behind.

      1. @socksolid

        only brings pay drivers into the sport

        Kovalainen and Trulli weren’t pay drivers.

        Teams don’t hire pay drivers out of choice, they do so because they need to bring the money in. If F1 wants those near the back of the field to hire based on talent instead of wealth it shouldn’t have inflated the prize money for the richest teams at the expense of those with the least money.

        1. Doesn’t matter why they. It only matter that they do.

      2. I think the problem with @socksolid argument is that, you can say it next year too.

        Sauber and Force India aren’t even competing, what’s the point? F1 needs only teams who can compete.

        And you can keep doing that until you only have one team.

        The argument that they don’t add anything to the sport just doesn’t fly with me. One of the most epic moments in F1 history, for me, one of the most powerful moments, is when Loca Luca’s engine blew on his Minardi at the Nürburgring.

        Or what about Toleman? They were a back marker team. In their first three years it’s cars collectively failed to qualify for the race 33 times and they retired another 33 times on top of that. They were only classified on 15 times. And in the first two years, they were only classified three times. That makes Caterham look amazing in comparison. Why are they important for the sport? Because in 1984, they gave Senna his Debut. Without Toleman, we wouldn’t have had Monaco 84.

        Or what about a team that had eight different drivers in 1976 and didn’t even score a point? Surely the guy in charge of that farcical effort, should have nothing to do with F1? Right?
        Surely, in 76, it was safe to say that Frank Williams did not have a long term future shaping the history of F1.

        I think it’s fair to say that backmarkers have shaped F1’s history almost as much as the leaders.

        1. Backmarkers important as big teams? I’m laughing my ass off! Your post seems to agree with my point. The existence of small teams in F1 is all about schadenfreunde.

          You keep mentioning williams. He made it his life mission to be in F1. It was his life and passion. Marussia and caterham are rich men’s toys. Play things for people who have too much money and not enough brains to be in f1 on merit. I find it appalling you even mention teams like williams in the same sentence with teams like marussia or caterham. They are not the same thing at all. These new teams are a joke. Rich man’s play thing. Williams team was and is that man’s life, passion and purpose.

          1. So what’s Red Bull and Toro Rosso if not the toy of a rich man? How is Manor Motorsport (aka Marussia) a rich man’s toy when it was founded in 1990 and competed in plenty of other formulas, including GP3?

  2. Do Marussia’s creditors/employees get the money for finishing 9th? I hope so– if you can win the drivers championship posthumously, I don’t see why a team can’t be postumously ranked in the constructors with the points it earned. Sauber and Caterham don’t deserve it just for completing 3 more races poorly

    1. If you miss more than two races you are excluded from the championship. Marussia’s creditors will receive nothing.

      1. Then Marussia ‘so creditors must be very dull boys and girls. It can’t possibly have cost more than a few million to show up at the track for one more race and them they could have collected $20 million in prize money.

        1. Thanks for nothing, autocorrect LOL

      2. That is not correct @mazdachris, @daved – you can miss up to 3 races in a season, so it is possible the money will go to Marussia, although there might be other clauses (about insovency) that would prevent this.

        1. @bascb That’s very possible as I’m not remotely familiar with all the super-secret- squirrel stuff that seems to govern F1. I was just going on the comments people were making above. :)

    2. Jochenrindt78
      1st December 2014, 16:33

      It appears that Marussia’s prize money of 27 million (approx.) will be divided between the other teams. As they missed two races they lose everything. I heard a rumour that Marussia were told they weren’t to bother turning up at Abu Dhabi as they arrived at Stanstead airport to board the flights. If true I believe that they were prevented from taking part so that BE didn’t have to pay them the prize money they won fair and square. It’s a real shame Marussia especially (having scored) points didn’t receive their £ although it probably wouldn’t have saved them.

      1. On the Sky F1 show Max Chilton said they were on their way to the airport when the final deadline for some vital sponsorship payment passed, and they didn’t dare pile on any more debt. The money did eventually come in, but too late.

  3. I – for one – would like this money allocated towards Jules’ medical expenses.

    Will it ever happen. Sadly, no.

    1. I’m sure he has very good insurance. ;)

  4. It looks like they have too many problems.

  5. petebaldwin (@)
    1st December 2014, 22:08

    So exactly as I though. Caterham raised £2,354,389 through crowd funding and for what? Imagine what good that sort of money could do in the right hands but instead, people paid that much to watch a team 2 cars drive around slowly at the back of the field…

  6. If Tony Fernandes had applied the Marussia opearting model, all his money would have worked. Like Collin Kolles said, the team was not setup as a “small” team. It was being run like a team competing at the sharp end of the grid. Fernandes and his advisors were too ambitious, they bit off more than they could chew.

    Im pretty sure if Marussia had Caterham’s money, they would have done better.

  7. It’s a real shame that Caterham couldn’t show their real potential in the last three races of their season in Suzuka, Shoch and Abu Dhabi. They brought a big aero update to Suzuka but unfortunately only one set was available and were force to put it to a slower driver instated of a faster driver. Manfredi Ravetto said (and almost boasted) just before Japanese GP that the update would allow them to fight Saubers and Lotus’ and it turned out to true if you put time gained by Ericsson/Stevens to Kobayashi, he would have easily much mid-field cars’ pace but instead we only saw Ericsson became slightly faster than his teammate and Stevens closed the gap to his faster teammate. Caterham made it easy to spot the difference between the latest spec and old spec by painting it in different colours, the latest one in black and the old one in green.
    It wasn’t always fitted to Ericsson/Stevens’ car and that made easier to see the improvement the update brings to the car. (IAN PHILLIPS says in Autosport magazin it’s about 1.5s.)
    In Japan: Last run in FP1, From the second run onwards in FP2 and FP3, Qualifying and Race.
    In Russia: From the second run onwards in FP2 and FP3, Qualifying and Race.
    In Abu Dhabi: From the second run onwards in FP3, Qualifying and Race.

    I kind of understand why Caterham gave it to Ericsson and he at least went slightly faster than Kobayashi with the update so that made Caterham a little bit closer to the mid-field teams but with Stevens it made no difference as he was still slower than his teammate.
    Nowadays these drivers with money demand the no. 1 status and they get it. If they are faster than the teammate, no one would complain but Caterham’s case they are much much slower than their teammate.
    Here is photographic evidence from Abu Dhabi Race:
    Stevens with the new aero (Front wing end plate is black)
    Kobayashi with the old aero (Front wing end plate is green)

    Kobayashi’s car was never fitted with the new aero package even in free practice sessions.

  8. I saw all coments and i thought to myself why Ferrari don´t get manor to promote young drivers like red bull does with toro rosso, they give their engines so why not to do the same, and catterham joining to mercedes or mclaren, it is one way to promote their shooll drivers and giving more show in the grid.
    It is only one idea, more cars make f1 more exciting.

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