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


2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Race Analysis

Lewis Hamilton Crowned Champion

Britain celebrated last night, as Lewis Hamilton delivered his second World Championship title. After understandably appearing tense throughout the weekend, Hamilton raced impeccably, jumping his teammate within the first fifty meters of the 55 lap race, following an incredible launch. As Nico Rosberg ran into technical trouble at the mid-way point of the race, Felipe Massa became Lewis’ prime challenger for the victory. However, the Brit kept everything under control, taking the chequered flag and with it, became a two time champion of the world.

Bitter Sweet For Mercedes

Understandably, the main focus for Mercedes throughout the weekend was on reliability. The W05 has been dubbed the most dominant car in the history of the sport, yet it has been far from infallible in the reliability stakes. It is important to remember that Mercedes’ involvement in Formula 1 is primarily, a brand exercise and as such, if stories of unreliability deciding the championship appeared on the Monday-morning front pages, Stuttgart would not be best pleased. Unfortunately for them, one of the championship contenders ran into technical trouble, yet fortunately for the boardroom, this has not stolen the headlines.
For Nico Rosberg, his title hopes were dashed early on in proceedings – within the first few meters in fact. Hamilton managed to achieve one of the greatest start’s I have seen in a long time, not just allowing him to take the lead, but allowing him to break the DRS before the end of the first sector of the opening lap. Hamilton was in control at the head of the pack and looked comfortable. He was on-course for the title when Nico suffered an ERS failure. 
The failure was critical for Rosberg – the loss of 160bhp clearly took its tole and the German quickly fell out of contention. At one point, his engine cut entirely for a few moments. It was heartbreaking to watch, as even the slimmest hopes of snatching the title slipped away from Rosberg. Ultimately, it is fair to say that without Nico’s issues, Hamilton would still have been crowned champion. For this fact, brand Mercedes have somewhat escaped what could have been an embarrassing headline in today’s papers. 
While an elated Hamilton stole the post-race show, I was hugely impressed with Rosberg’s reaction to defeat and he set a fine example to any budding racer or sportsman or woman in general. Magnanimous and classy, Nico met with Lewis prior to the podium celebrations, congratulating the man who he had fought so hard with all season. In an interview following the race, he also acknowledged that “the better man one” – sporting dignity at its finest. This all followed Nico’s defiance of his team in the final laps. When he was told to retire the car, in a move which was seemingly made by Mercedes to avoid having Hamilton lap his teammate, Rosberg stayed on the circuit, citing his desire to finish the race and finish the championship. 
All of these factors added to an incredible spectacle in Abu Dhabi. The race may have not delivered the wheel-to-wheel racing of Bahrain or the frantic finish of Hungary, but the season finale was a magnificent sporting spectacle. While it was disappointing to see Rosberg end his campaign limping rather than sprinting, the dynamic between the Mercedes duo was brilliant. I just wish I could have been in the Mercedes garage after the chequered flag to feel the atmosphere.

Williams Conquer The Prancing Horse

It has been on the cards since mid-season, but Williams’ 2014 resurgence has been rewarded in a well-deserved third place spot in the constructors championship. The team certainly ended their campaign in sublime style, securing their first double podium since Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber stood on the Monaco rostrum, back in 2005.
After keeping pace with the Mercedes throughout the opening exchanges, it looked likely that Felipe Massa would steal his first race win since the famous Brazilian Grand Prix of 2008, as Lewis Hamilton focused on his W05’s survival as oppose to the fast approaching Williams. It was a rare occasion in which Williams took the aggressive choice on strategy, after Felipe managed to extend his first and second stints, in order to run option tyres in the closing stages. Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas’ recovery from a dreadful start was also orchestrated by the pit-wall.
It was a magnificent team performance, which optimized what Williams have been about this season – a hugely popular team, working in unison with unbelievable focus on the same goal. 2014 has centered around beating Ferrari and in doing so, moral this winter should be as high as ever. Judging by their development throughout the year, it seems as though if anyone is about to challenge Mercedes supremacy in 2015, it will be Williams and in Massa and Bottas, the team have the drivers in which to do so.    

Button Brings Home The Bacon

The fact that we may have witnessed Jenson Button’s final race yesterday is hugely frustrating – a World Champion not being able to say goodbye to his adoring fans seems flawed, yet the situation at McLaren has become a saga as oppose to a story. However, if yesterday’s performances were to have any bearing on the outcome of the debate, Button has surely bought himself a fast track to a 2015 seat.
With Kevin Magnussen being beaten by both Force India’s and slipping out of the points scoring positions, Jenson Button’s P5 became massively significant, as it secured P5 in the constructors for the Woking based team. Had he suffered the same fate as Magnussen, Force India would have been celebrating an unexpected rise to their best ever constructors championship finish. If it is the cost of Jenson which is influencing the team’s decision, then his counter-argument will now be the potential cost of not having him in the team.

An Unlikely Success Story

Merely arriving in Abu Dhabi was a success story in itself for ‘crowdfunded’ Caterham, but throughout the weekend, the team certainly acquitted themselves very well indeed. Despite the logistical nightmares faced in the weeks prior to the event and the skeleton staff, full of parachuted-in personnel, processes were evidently followed and the outfit did not look out of place.
While Kamui Kobayashi was forced into retirement, Will Stevens achieved his ultimate aim by finishing the race and gaining vital experience which will certainly look impressive on his CV. Despite a slight run-in with Fernando Alonso, Stevens drove a comfortable race and in a modern age where testing is limited, 55 laps of practice is crucial and will hopefully be a huge boost to his confidence.  


Driver of the Day
Lewis Hamilton
Pressure, pressure, pressure – Lewis Hamilton soaked it up like a sponge throughout the evening. Not only did he manage to perform a near perfect launch, but he also faced the tension of knowing that one W05 had been struck down by technical technicalities. With memories of Canada flooding back, he not only won the race, but won the race while putting as minimal strain on his fallible Mercedes. Lewis played and percentage game and still won for the eleventh time this year – and took the championship title. 

Race Result
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Felipe Massa Williams
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
5 Jenson Button McLaren
6 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
7 Sergio Perez Force India
8 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
11 Kevin Magnussen McLaren
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus
14 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
16 Adrian Sutil Sauber
17 Will Stevens Caterham
RET Kamui Kobayashi Caterham
RET Pastor Maldonado Lotus
RET Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso

2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Thursday Analysis

News, news and more news came out of Abu Dhabi today, as teams and drivers prepare for the season finale this weekend. Fernando Alonso confirmed that he will be leaving Ferrari at the end of the season, while Sebastian Vettel made the announcement that he is Maranello-bound on a three-year contract. Both featured in one of the most entertaining Press Conference’s in recent times, as did the title protagonists. Elsewhere, it was established that British FR3.5 driver, Will Stevens, will take the second Caterham seat alongside Kamui Kobayashi this weekend. Lots to talk about already, and it is only Thursday!

Alonso Out, Vettel In

Perhaps the most predictable news story of this season so far, but it is official confirmation at least. After joining the prancing horse in 2010, Fernando Alonso had aspirations of taking his third World Championship title behind the wheel of a Ferrari, yet as the famous outfit has slipped back in the pecking order, the relationship which promised so much, has broken down. Alonso is moving on.
His replacement – the man who has held the sport in a vice-like grip for the past four seasons, forcing Fernando to settle for second on three occasions. Sebastian Vettel will be able to fulfill his dream over the next three years, as he will make the switch from Red Bull to Ferrari.
If we park the question mark surrounding Ferrari’s need to improve, Vettel’s move makes complete sense. The German, who was inspired by Michael Schumacher, has always wanted to drive for Ferrari, and he highlighted these thoughts in today’s press conference. The fact is, that some critics believe that he needs to win at least one more title outside of his Red Bull comfort-zone, before he can be considered a legend of the sport. Personally, I doubt Vettel has not already etched his name into the sports elite, simply from the sheer scale of his statistics, but I imagine the move to Ferrari will improve the German’s popularity rating. Meanwhile, his good relationship with Kimi Raikkonen should make his integration into the team significantly more comfortable than if Fernando was his opposite number. It is a move which should suit both parties very well indeed.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari exit now leaves just his destination to confirm. The assumption, is that the Spaniard is McLaren bound and an awkward question in today’s presser, saw a coy Fernando fail to answer whether he would prefer Kevin Magnussen or Jenson Button as his teammate next season. It is widely assumed that the contractual stumbling block has been the length of the deal, with Alonso’s suspected strategy being to head to McLaren on a one-year deal with the intention of using his stay at Woking as a stop-gap, prior to a switch to Brackley. Rumour suggests that Ron Dennis would want Fernando tied to McLaren for two years. It is certainly a complex situation, but ultimately, if he fails to obtain a seat at McLaren, the man widely regarded to be the pick of the bunch will be unemployed in 2015. This scenario, is unlikely and I expect news that Alonso and Dennis have rekindled an old partnership to filter into the public domain very soon indeed.

The Calm Before The Storm

As Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg arrived to greet the press today, the pair shook hands in a poignant display of respect prior to what will be a career defining weekend. For Hamilton, Sunday will be his fourth title deciding race, while for Nico, this is his first chance at snatching a World Championship title. The tension in today’s press conference was evident.
Lewis looked apprehensive, but as the man with the crown in his hands, this is to be expected. His focus however, was evident. Meanwhile, Nico cast the stereotypical image of the contender – a relaxed demeanour. The German took the opportunity to warn his teammate that he needs to “keep it clean” this weekend. Sparring has begun and the duo will take to the track tomorrow to play out the first acts of what promises to be a gripping showdown.

Stevens Snatches His Opportunity

Will Stevens has had a busy few months and after switching teams and closing out a Formula Renault 3.5 championship campaign, the Brit has snatched an opportunity in Formula 1. He will drive alongside Kamui Kobayashi behind the wheel of the crowdfunded Caterham.
While I had not thought of Stevens as an option due to his switch from the Caterham programme to the ninth placed Marussia team prior to the Japanese Grand Prix. However, after establishing a good relationship with the team, it seems that Stevens’ departure was certainly not completed in acrimonious fashion, and the Brit has jumped straight back into the Leafield squad.
Ultimately, the aim for Stevens is to have a smooth weekend, free of any drama. This is his opportunity in the shop window of Formula 1 teams and with an optimistic Caterham team setting their sights on Melbourne 2015, he is now in pole position to gain a permanent seat. Beating Kamui would be an ambitious target to set – finishing the race will be an excellent inclusion to his CV.

2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

18 rounds in which Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have suffered both the triumphs and tribulations experienced on any championship journey and now, they will face each-other for the final chapter of what has been a gripping season. Abu Dhabi will play host to the showdown, in which one of the two Mercedes men will become World Champion. With Hamilton only needing to finish in the top two in order to guarantee his second title, he has the advantage, but as many a title decider has shown in the past, strange things happen when a championship draws to its gripping climax.

The Facts…

  • The Yas Marina Circuit plays host to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
  • The 5.554 kilometre circuit will see the race play out over the course of 55 laps.
  • The venue hosted its inaugural race in 2009, won by Sebastian Vettel, who secured second place in the drivers championship.
  • In 2010, Abu Dhabi hosted the season finale in which four drivers had an opportunity to win the title – Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Vettel emerged as the victor.
  • Lewis Hamilton took victory in 2011, before retiring from the lead in 2012, allowing Kimi Raikkonen to take his first win on his return to the sport.
  • Sebastian Vettel holds the lap record of 1:40.279, set in 2005 when driving the RB5.  

Rewind 12 Months

Sebastian Vettel took another victory in which he crushed the opposition. After being out-qualified by his outgoing teammate, Mark Webber, Vettel hit the front at the first corner, taking a lead which he never relinquished. Meanwhile, the Aussie, who had been jumped by Nico Rosberg as well, after another of his traditional poor launches, made it into P2. Following such a frantic equivalent race in 2012, 2013’s edition was somewhat of a slow-burner, yet notable incidents behind the leading trio came in an intriguing battle between Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Sutil and Felipe Massa, as well as Fernando Alonso’s curb-hopping antics, which saw him book a trip to the medical centre after the race. Lets hope Fernando can steer clear of excessive G-Force’s this time around.

Title Permutations

What would a title deciding weekend preview be without the ever complicated permutations. Albeit slightly less mind-numbing than the 2010 list, which had an endless pool of scenarios, the 2014 title will go one of two ways, in accordance with the following criteria;

  • If Rosberg is 1st, Hamilton needs 2nd
  • If Rosberg is 2nd, Hamilton needs 5th
  • If Rosberg is 3rd, Hamilton needs 6th
  • If Rosberg is 4th, Hamilton needs 8th
  • If Rosberg is 5th, Hamilton needs 9th
  • If Rosberg finishes lower than 5th, Hamilton is the champion.

Ultimately, the numbers to focus on this weekend are 1 and 2. If Hamilton finishes in the top two, he will be champion regardless of what Rosberg manages. It is key to note that whenever both Mercedes have enjoyed trouble-free weekends, they have finished first and second, suggesting that the only ways in which Hamilton can loose the title are by suffering a mechanical failure or by making an error in qualifying or the race. However, if the final two rounds of the titanic 2007 season taught him anything, it is that the sport is unpredictable. The fact that Mercedes’ reliability has been far from infallible this season also adds to the tension which will inevitably be present throughout Sunday.

Will Hamilton Go For Gold?

The fact that Lewis does not need to win on Sunday may shape the race. At Interlagos in 2007, it could be argued that Hamilton, (who only needed fifth on the day), was a touch overzealous in his assault on Alonso at Turn Four. He arrived at the corner with far too much speed and went wide, loosing several positions. Ultimately, it was the mysterious gearbox issue which cost him the title on that occasion, but his first lap antics were unnecessary in the circumstances.
If Rosberg secures Pole on Saturday, it will be intriguing to see how Lewis approaches the first corner. The Hamilton of 2007 would arguably attempt to exit the corner in the lead, should the circumstances even supply him a sniff of an opportunity, but the Lewis of 2014 has seemed far more calm and considered. I imagine that if Nico looks menacing during the race, Hamilton will not pose much of a threat in response – I’m not suggesting that it will be a final lap of 1997, Villeneuve-esque, display of caution from Hamilton, but he cannot afford contact. The events of Spa have not been forgotten.

Back To 22?

Aside from the championship tussle, Caterham will make a return to the paddock this weekend, after their crowdfunding efforts have proved dividend. Interim Team Principal, Finbarr O’Connell, hopes that the team’s appearance will galvanise investment interest.
When the announcement was made, and I published my thoughts on this blog, the team had two seats to fill with drivers. Since then, Kamui Kobayashi was confirmed as returning with the team, yet at the time of writing, his teammate for the event has not yet been disclosed. My hope is that we see an exciting new prospect receive their first chance to impress in a race situation – Roberto Merhi has been suggested as a likely candidate, after enjoying two FP1 sessions with the team so far this season, while my outside bet remains as Pierre Gasly. 
While 20 are confirmed, the grid could be back to a full compliment this weekend, as Marussia are currently waiting for confirmation of investment. Their freight has arrived at the circuit, but the final packages, boxes and bags await confirmation of their entry. This has to be established in the very near future, (so much so, that official news is likely to have been announced by the time you are reading this.) It would be great to see the team return to the paddock, on the back of today’s news regarding Jules Bianchi’s improved condition. My thoughts continue to be with the Frenchman and his family. Hopefully, Marussia can return and seal the ninth place in the constructors championship that Jules fought so hard for in Monaco. 

An Emotional Weekend

This weekend is set to be an emotional rollercoaster at Mercedes, but elsewhere, it could be a weekend for farewells. Sebastian Vettel will complete his final race as a Red Bull driver, in a partnership which has proved to be astoundingly fruitful. Meanwhile, it could potentially be Jenson Button’s final race in Formula 1, as McLaren are yet to decided their 2015 driver line-up. For Button to be involved in such uncertainty is frustrating and certainly does not reflect his status as a World Champion. In addition, speculation of Fernando Alonso’s switch from Ferrari to McLaren means that Abu Dhabi 2014 could prove to be Alonso’s final race in the famous red chassis. McLaren Sporting Director, Sam Michael, will also undertake his final weekend in the sport, after 21 years in F1.

Prediction Corner

The only thing predictable about a final race, title showdown, is that it will be unpredictable. While Hamilton is the likely candidate for championship glory, Rosberg is in prime position to snatch his maiden title should his teammate falter. You may be disappointed to hear that I will not be making any firm predictions to do with the top duo in this edition of prediction corner.
Behind the Mercedes pair, I would imagine that Red Bull will have a strong final weekend, but the manner in which Williams have progressed in the past few weeks is truly impressive, and brings this into question. The Red Bull chassis should pay dividend at Abu Dhabi, but Williams’ pace at Interlagos surprised me and I wouldn’t be surprised to be surprised again this weekend, (if that all makes sense.) Noises from Maranello over the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend suggest that Ferrari are less focussed on mounting a final assault on Williams in the final round, but instead are watching McLaren looming in their mirrors. It would take a herculean effort from McLaren to overhaul the prancing horse and as such, I anticipate the constructors standings will remain stagnant this weekend.

Will there be a change at the top of the drivers standings? Lets wait and see.

Caterham Refuelled For Abu Dhabi

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.

80% Complete

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.

Golden Opportunity

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.

2014 US Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

As the F1 paddock arrives in Austin for the third time, they prepare to assemble the smallest grid since the Monaco Grand Prix in 2005, with just 18 cars making the journey following a disastrous week for both Marussia and Caterham. The 18 car grid and latest incarnation of the points scoring system means that this weekend will mark the first time that over half of entrants will score points, in the history of the sport. Financial sustainability will be a buzz word, (or should I say, phrase) this time out, but talk of the ever intensifying rivalry between the title protagonists will dominate the headlines. With 17 points splitting Lewis Hamilton from Nico Rosberg, the latter is in dire need of a triumph over his chief rival.

The Facts…

  • The Circuit of the Americas (otherwise known as COTA) is a 5.5 kilometer layout which hosts a wide range of motorsport series including MotoGP, WEC and of course, Formula 1.
  • The race takes pace over 56 laps
  • Lewis Hamilton won the first ever US Grand Prix to be held at COTA in 2012, from Sebastian Vettel in second.
  • Sebastian Vettel went one better in 2013, taking a comfortable victory and his eighth in succession.
  • Vettel holds the lap record at COTA with a 1:39.347, posted in 2012 behind the wheel of the RB8. 
  • Valtteri Bottas scored the first points of his F1 career in the equivalent event last year, with a solid eight place finish.

Rewind 12 Months

Unlike the 2012 US Grand Prix, the 2013 event was a largely forgettable affair. Sebastian Vettel further etched his name into the history books with his eighth consecutive victory in what was a textbook Sebastian Vettel drive. The German bolted away from his competitors in the opening laps and never looked back. Romain Grosjean continued what had been a timely run of form by securing his career best result with P2. It was an accomplished drive, particularly considering that Mark Webber posed a significant threat in the Frenchman’s mirrors for the entire second and final stint. However, Grosjean’s glory as driver of the day had to be shared with Valtteri Bottas, as the rookie scored the first points of his career with a sublime drive to P8. While Pastor Maldonado suffered an early skirmish with Adrian Sutil, Bottas remained cool, calm and collected, even challenging Fernando Alonso in the opening exchanges – something that he has come accustomed to doing in 2014.

Light In Numbers

This weekend will unquestionably be headlined by those not making the trip to Austin. Marussia and Caterham have made several appearances on the back pages over the last few days, as the pair fell into administration after finally crippling under the weight of financial burdens. Caterham’s fiasco has been defined by a season long saga as Tony Fernandes fell out of love with the sport and passed the baton, (or at least we think) to the mysterious Swiss Middle Eastern consortium, who have failed to halt the runaway train of debts. Meanwhile, Marussia’s news came as far more of a surprise – it was common knowledge that the Banbury squad were on the breadline, as highlighted by the curious Chilton story at Spa, but it was not evident that such a crisis was looming. October has been a truly awful month for the team and sentiments of #ForzaJules will of course be prominent again this weekend.
With neither team making the trip to Texas, the grid will be composed of just 18 cars, making it the smallest grid since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, where BAR Honda were excluded due the running of illegal fuel tanks in the prior San Marino Grand Prix. If you are wondering, ‘but surely the infamous US Grand Prix of 2005 had fewer cars,’ it does not count in regards to this statistic, as it technically had 20 entrants, even if only six of those started the race.

The Titanic Title Fight Continues

17 points is the latest margin between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in a dice which has swung back and forward throughout the last 16 races. Momentum has proved to be a powerful tool in the title fight so far and it is very much in the hands of Hamilton at the moment, as the Brit heads to Austin on the back of four consecutive wins. It is an ominous statistic that a driver is yet to win four consecutive races in a season and fail to claim the ultimate prize – Hamilton fans will hope that he does not become the first exception to the rule.
Certainly, Nico Rosberg is in need of a win. The critical error made in Sochi cost him a chance of victory and suggested that the German is beginning to overdrive. He needs to return to his mid-season form, where he managed to control races from the front near faultlessly, with the Austrian and German Grand Prix springing to mind.
With the margin as it stands, there are of course countless permutations, but essentially Rosberg needs to win ‘Abu Double’ plus either the US or Brazilian Grand Prix in order to claim the title, assuming that Hamilton finishes no better than second in the three remaining rounds. Consequently, if Rosberg can record his fifth win of the campaign this weekend, he will relieve some pressure ahead of Brazil, which will otherwise become a must win race. However, considering Hamilton’s prior form on US soil, it could be tough for Nico to shake Lewis out of his current purple patch.

Prediction Corner

Despite the form book suggesting that another Hamilton victory is on the cards for Sunday, I cannot help but think that the 2014 title fight will suffer another significant twist. From the unforgettable qualifying session in Monaco to the famed contact at Les Combes, the duel between Hamilton and Rosberg has had so many story lines and chapters, it would seem contradictory to have a smooth road to the title for Lewis. As such, I cannot help but think that Rosberg will win at least one more round this season and why should it not come this weekend?
Aside from the Mercedes scrap, I would expect Red Bull to be strong in Austin, with the technically demanding sector one playing to their strengths. Meanwhile, Williams could find themselves in the now unfamiliar position of being behind Ferrari this weekend, with just the one long straight allowing them to highlight their straight line advantage. However, after his heroics last season, Bottas could establish himself as a COTA specialist this weekend and as such, is a candidate for the final spot on the podium – he certainly knows how to claim a P3 after recording three so far in 2014.  

Marussia Fall Into Administration

The lack of sustainability in the sport was brought into sharp focus once again yesterday, as Marussia have followed Caterham into the hands of administrators. The Banbury squad have faced an arduous few weeks and after F1-supremo Bernie Ecclestone announced that they would not attend the US Grand Prix two days ago, yesterday’s news was hugely disappointing yet somewhat predictable. The race is now on to find a buyer, yet reports would suggest that they are closer to investment than Caterham.

Marussia Chilton” by emporernie
Licensed under CC-BY-2.0

The Search Begins

After writing an article based on the lack of financial sustainability in the sport just three days ago, I am not about to evaluate the reasons why such a predicament has occurred. However, missing the US Grand Prix due to financial issues is a significantly less poignant issue than missing the event in the hands of the administrators. The problem faced by both Marussia and Caterham has suddenly become a far more distinguishable issue and the threat of three car teams, which seemed a more theoretical concept up until a few days ago, is now a daunting prospect. Should neither of the two aforementioned teams reappear, then the sport is only one team away from a structural metamorphosis and a largely unwelcome one at that.
However, it is important to note that reports paint a far more positive picture of the Banbury affairs compared with their Leafield counterparts. Prior to the announcement of their administration, it was rumored in The Telegraph that Marussia were close to sealing an investment deal worth £55 million. Regardless of whether these investors are still interested in the team, the fact that no redundancies have been made at the factory gives Marussia a sizable advantage over Caterham. The prospect of a £40 million payday for finishing in ninth place in the constructors should also be an attractive proposition to potential investors.
Regardless, I think I speak for everyone when I say that I hope that both Marussia and Caterham attract the injection of funding that is needed to not only return them to the grid, but make them a more potent force in the future. With each and every 2010 inductee team suffering at the hands of finances, there needs to be evidence that in the right conditions, a new team can challenge the establishment.