Caterham’s Year of Strife

Politics, politics and more politics have plagued the Leafield based squad this season and their trials and tribulations have highlighted just how challenging life at the back of the grid can be.

Caterham Pit Box 2014 Singapore
By Morio (photo taken by Morio) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

The Facts

  • Caterham finished P11 in the Constructors Championship, failing to score a single point
  • The team gave F1 debuts to Marcus Ericsson, Andre Lotterer and Will Stevens across the course of the season. 
  • 2014 was Caterham’s fifth season in the sport.
  • Their best result of the season came in Monaco, where Ericsson narrowly missed out on points, finishing in P11.

Political Plight

Caterham’s 2014 campaign will forever be remembered for flawed politics. The ‘messyist’ of messy seasons, resulted in mass confusion, with even the drivers complaining of a lack of knowledge in regards to the outfit’s ownership. 
Rewinding back to late January, during a team press event in which their latest driver pairing was announced, then-owner Tony Fernandes highlighted that his interest in the sport was dwindling. He gave a clear message that 2014 would have to be a success story if he was to maintain his influence – ultimately, as Caterham were cut even further adrift of the midfield pack, Fernandes could no longer justify his investment and therefore, sold the team. 
While it initially looked as though they would not make an appearance at the British Grand Prix, their attendance was sparked by the investment of a mysterious Swiss Middle-Eastern consortium of buyers, (later identified as Engavast SV,) who prompted a raft of changes at the helm of the squad. Ex-driver Christijan Albers took over duties in the Team Principal role, while Colin Kolles’ involvement in the outfit was in an advisory capacity. This appointment was particularly poignant at the time, as Kolles has been the man deployed to save team’s grappling with financial and sporting turmoil in the past. This assessment, stemmed from his time in the upper echelon of Jordan, in which he oversaw the transitions to Spyker, Midland and eventually Force India. 
However, it soon emerged that this new structure was untenable. After key personnel such as Technical Director Mark Smith had been removed from their positions earlier in the year, the consortium dismissed more than 40 members of staff early on in the takeover. However, 38 members of this group declared that they were unfairly dismissed and took legal action against the team. According to Caterham, negotiations have been taking place with the ex-employees, yet these talks seem to have broken down, with one former employee having claimed that a settlement had not been offered and neither had they received the money which they were owed.   
Evidently, the takeover had been unsuccessful and it soon emerged that disputes between Fernandes and Engavest were the source of the fundamental issues behind the scenes. The two failed to meet a compromise and soon, the administrators jumped in to rescue the declining outfit, following a Russian Grand Prix which threatened to by their last – Kobayashi’s bizarre retirement highlighted just how dire the situation had become and as such, news of administration came as no surprise. In stepped Finbarr O’Connell, in a role of interim Team Principal and soon unveiled a grand plan to put Caterham back on the grid – Crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding Controversy 

The concept of crowdfunding, in which private donations were made to the team, ranging in both shape and size, was controversial to say the least. Christian Horner was one particularly vocal opponent to the scheme, yet O’Connell had clear justification for the plan – evidently, making it to Abu Dhabi and demonstrating to the world that Caterham F1 Team was still operational would greatly increase the potential for more sustainable, long-term investment. While I myself questioned the ethics of crowdfunding, the justification was undoubted and the fact that Caterham made it to Abu Dhabi demonstrated just how significant “fan-power” can be. As for long-term investment, official news has been in short supply, yet speculation suggests that potential investors are on the horizon and a spot on the grid in Melbourne is far from an impossibility, even if the team have to run a 2014 specification car, (for which they have received the required dispensation to do.)

Adverse Driving Conditions

Evidently not a great year for staff at Leafield and ultimately, this transpired to a what was a difficult year for Caterham drivers. Despite the political turmoil, both Ericsson and Kobayashi were relied upon to bring home the proverbial bacon and seal the outfit’s first points scoring finish – a desire made more potent by Bianchi’s ninth place and Marussia’s first points in Monaco. 
In fairness, both Ericsson and Kobayashi dealt with the situation remarkably well, maintaining their focus firmly on racing – perhaps assisted by their clear lack of knowledge in regards to the complexities and veiled threats behind the scenes. It was an admirable performance, which only wavered as administration loomed large. 
In terms of ultimate performance, it is impossible to suggest that Ericsson was anything other than average throughout the course of the season. However, it is unfair to make a judgement in regards to his talent on the basis of this campaign – he may have been beaten by his more experienced teammate, but in his rookie year, Marcus was provided with sub-par machinery and the type of instability which is sure to unsettle the most experienced of drivers – even if the young Swede hid his concerns remarkably well. 
On reflection, Kamui Kobayashi may feel as though coming back to the sport was a mistake, as in order to return to the paddock, he had to relinquish his place in the Ferrari GT programme. Signed for his spectacular race craft, the popular personality was unable to flex his overtaking muscles too often, due to the nature of the CT05. To compound the issue, he found himself replaced by Andre Lotterer at Spa on account of the team requiring an injection of additional funding – meanwhile, Ericsson maintained his seat, despite having been beaten by Kobayashi on a regular basis throughout the season. For Kobayashi, this Caterham opportunity was somewhat of a last chance saloon for him to salvage his F1 career. Unfortunately for him, his brave decision to leave Ferrari was not rewarded.

Final Lap

Best Moment of the Season
Despite the adversities faced by the team, Caterham made it to Abu Dhabi and managed to guide Will Stevens to the chequered flag – a great advert for the team.

Best Performance of the Season 
Marcus Ericsson’s drive to P15 in Singapore

Final Grade
D

Advertisements

Have Your Say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s