After the previous two rounds featured just 18 participants, the season finale in Abu Dhabi will see a grid of 20 cars form up, as Caterham have announced that they will be returning to the paddock next weekend. Following a week of crowdfunding which exceeded many commentators expectations, the team may have finished just short of their target of £2.35 million, but joint administrator Finbarr O’Connell confirmed the teams return earlier today. It may be an unsustainable return, but appearing at the double points finale may be a launchpad for a serious investment.
Caterham’s achievement over the past week has been quite extraordinary. While the ethics of crowdfunding is questionable at best, the team have managed to attract £1.9 million, (at the time of writing) – 80% of the target which they set when the programme was first launched. In many regards, it is unsurprising that so many donations have been made, as the team have offered a multitude of rewards for investment of all sizes. From a ‘RefuelCaterhamF1’ pin badge in return for £5, to a bargeboard for £400 and enhanced branding at the cost of £10,000. Donors have been spoilt for choice where rewards are concerned.
While their appearance in Abu Dhabi will be poignant, it remains to be seen whether this will be a grand send-off for a team who have yet to score a point in what has become a sport of financial instability. “We knew that the best way to keep this team alive and attract possible buyers was to show that it’s still a racing team and be in Abu Dhabi for the finale,” O’Connell illustrated. “There aren’t enough words to say how grateful we are to all the fans that have made this possible.
“We now head to Abu Dhabi ready to show what a hard-working and positive group of people this is and to hopefully secure a future for the team. During the past few days the interest of many potential buyers has increased massively and by racing in Abu Dhabi the team will be showcasing itself as a live and functioning team that deserves to continue into 2015 and beyond.”
The shortest of short term solutions has unquestionably provided the outfit with a lifeline. Finbarr’s logic is undoubted – a team who demonstrate that they can still field two race cars is certainly stronger than one which cannot find the finance to leave the factory. However, Caterham is still a tough job for even the most ambitious investor to take on. Riddled with debts, on-going court cases and still without points after five years of trying, it will require a sizeable effort to overhaul. Regardless, at a time when the sustainability – the lack of it – is making all the headlines, Caterham’s return is critical. Hopefully, one or several of the reported interested investors has the courage to take on the task, yet they will need deep pockets to do so.
With Caterham back in business, they need to resolve their current driver situation. With Marcus Ericsson having cut his ties with the team earlier in the week and Kamui Kobayashi’s standing with the team having been tenuous ever since Spa, there could potentially be two seats up for grabs and in a current driver market where opportunities are limited, any opportunity is an opportunity worth taking.
Much has been made over the past 24 hours of Alice Powell, who has been linked with an appearance. Despite significant steps being made by her Grandfather to secure a drive, Powell confirmed today that she is no longer in the frame. Meanwhile, GP2 Series champion Jolyon Palmer is also out of the running.
It is to be anticipated that criteria for a drive will revolve around finance, and the seat(s) could be decided by a bidding war. It is rumoured that one of the two has already been confirmed, yet the identity of this driver is currently undisclosed. While almost any young driver could potentially snatch a drive, my men to watch would be Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz Jr and Alex Lynn, three Red Bull backed drivers who could potentially have their lead sponsor purchase a seat. The fact that Gasly is currently competing at Caterham’s GP2 outfit may make him a prime candidate.
It will be an intriguing storyline over the next few days.