What does the future hold for Caterham F1 Team?

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It’s been quite a two weeks for Caterham F1 Team. After previous owner Tony Fernandes spent months denying rumors and speculation saying that he would sell the team, he did exactly that last week as Colin Kolles and Christijan Albers came in to pick up the pieces and take over at Leafield.

It all came to something of an anti-climax, this story. The Silverstone paddock was supposed to be abuzz with talk about the future of the team, the plans for its new owners and what the future may hold. Instead, very few details came out, and we were left just as much in the dark. In fact, the only real story to come out of the race and test at Silverstone was the signing of Nathanael Berthon to Caterham’s driver development programme.

So where does all of this leave the team as we prepare to pass the halfway mark of the 2014 season at next weekend’s German Grand Prix? Here are a few key questions that we’ll try and clear up.

Who owns Caterham?

Not Tony Fernandes. The former team owner still has AirAsia and QPR to his name, as well as the Caterham Racing GP2 team (we’ll come to that later). He closed his Twitter account last month, signing off with the words “F1 hasn’t worked”.

The new owners are from Switzerland and the Middle East, uniting to form a consortium. The whole deal was advised by Colin Kolles, who used to run Jordan, Midland, Spyker, Force India and HRT. Former Minardi driver Christijan Albers is the CEO and team principal.

When Kolles’ involvement was confirmed, it appeared that this would be the pre-cursor to Forza Rossa joining the grid in 2015. Along with Haas Formula, the FIA was expected to accept another entry from a Romanian-backed entry run by Kolles. Logic suggested that he would get involved with Caterham before changing its name at the end of the year. However, he has maintained that Forza Rossa is a separate project.

Albers’ appointment came as a surprise to many, given that his last act in F1 was driving out of the pit lane with his fuel hose attached at the 2007 French Grand Prix. However, when speaking to Autosport magazine, he made clear that this was a project he believed in.

“I love that people were very surprised when I was walking in here,” he explained. “I thought about it a long time, but sometimes in life the train is passing and you have to step in or keep waiting.

“If I did not believe in it, I would not do it. It will be a big challenge, tough and hard, but I am ready to fight and so are the team around me.”

Can the team recover 10th in the constructors’ championship?

Yes, it can, but it is a big ask. When Marussia upset the odds to score its first ever points in Monaco, it threw a spanner in the works for Caterham and even Sauber, which is also yet to score any points in 2014. The big problem for Caterham was upgrades: the car wasn’t getting any quicker because the upgrade packages weren’t coming.

However, in the same interview with Autosport, Albers said that this was being tended to. “I want some upgrades, yes, and as soon as possible.

“I think you need to be realistic, you need to work first on a healthy situation where everybody can survive, and from there on push also. We have to push. For me the priority is to get as many upgrades as possible at a reasonable cost.”

And what of the drivers?

Of course, these are the guys who ultimate would get Caterham back ahead of Marussia or even Sauber. Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson have not by any means done a bad job this year. KK has certainly impressed and enjoyed some fierce battles with Marussia’s Jules Bianchi. However, he may be the man to make way should another pay driver come about.

Kobayashi’s deal with Caterham was based more on his experience than his financial muscle (which, it must be said, was good to see). If money is the focus for the new owners – if another pay driver could help with upgrades, thus bringing the team closer to P10 in the standings – then the popular Japanese racer may be out. Red Bull junior driver Carlos Sainz Jr. confirmed earlier this week that talks have been held, and if the defending world champions are happy to pay up for him to get an extra half-season of racing, then Kobayashi could be out in the cold once again.

Alternatively, the management may decide that Kobayashi is exactly what is needed to help take the team forwards. After all, he has experience, and has certainly put up a good fight to the opposition so far this year. Let’s wait and see on this one.

You mentioned Caterham Racing earlier…

Yes, now this is where it gets tricky. Caterham F1 Team and Caterham Racing have nothing to do with each other now, even though they have very similar color schemes and logos.

Tony Fernandes only sold the F1 team; he still owns Caterham Cars and Caterham Racing, as well as the Caterham team in Moto 2 (one class below Moto GP).

What isn’t clear is what the future holds for Caterham Racing’s drivers, Alexander Rossi and Rio Haryanto. Berthon was confirmed by the team on Tuesday as joining “Caterham F1 Team’s new Development Driver Program” – the key word being new. What happened to the old one comprising of Rossi, Haryanto, Robin Frijns and Will Stevens?

Stevens still enjoyed a full day of running at the Silverstone test, and Haryanto was due to until Julian Leal’s morning was lost to an electrical problem. However, it is very unclear what role they have in Caterham’s future and if there are any possible chances of a race seat in the future.

Caterham Racing may undergo a rebrand if Fernandes wants to hold onto it. When he first bought the GP2 team in 2011, it was called Caterham Team AirAsia and ran in the red and white colors of the airline. Something similar could be on the cards…

The Future

So as you can see, the whole Caterham situation has left us with more questions than answers. What we do know is that the team will be racing for the rest of the season, and its future beyond that seems to be set. F1 failed Tony Fernandes – the sport ultimately caused him to say that it hadn’t worked; it wasn’t for want of trying on his part.

Kolles and Albers know that things won’t be easy, and both are experts in life at the back of the F1 field. Here, they have a chance to bring the team up the order and, hopefully, into a new dawn in 2015.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.