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.

2017 PRI Show post-weekend notebook

Rahal and Bell's Chris Wheeler. Photo: IndyCar
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The 2017 edition of the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show is in the books for another year. Here’s some notes we gathered from the event at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.

While INDYCAR did not have a booth at this year’s show, there were still some interesting Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires nuggets to emerge.

RAHAL RUNNING REV

On Thursday, Graham Rahal was named as honorary chair of the Rev Indy charity event, held before the month of May’s on-track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway really gets going. The event is sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, which grew its relationship with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this past year.

The kickoff event was held at legendary St. Elmo’s, at its 1933 Lounge upstairs, with some samples of the food that will be served. Particularly noteworthy was St. Elmo’s trademark shrimp cocktail, which even caught out some local reporters on its heat…

PAGENAUD IN FINE FORM

Pagenaud meets the media. Photo: IndyCar

Further breakouts from him will come in the following days, but Simon Pagenaud was in very good spirits when meeting a small group of reporters on Thursday. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion mentioned a small relief that he didn’t have to go through the ringer of the champion’s postseason media tour in the days after Sonoma, as he won the season finale. That can be draining, he said, but it allowed him to get refreshed. Since Sonoma, he raced at Petit Le Mans, where he drove with Team Penske’s one-off Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2 car, he went back home to France before coming back to the U.S. for a mix of testing and other year-end commitments.

Of the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit, Pagenaud said it’s close to the initial Dallara DW12 chassis at its outset, although hailed the better and more balanced weight distribution of the new kit.

He also said it will be a different team dynamic without having Helio Castroneves there full-time. Castroneves, he said, kept all three of Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and Will Power grounded and all in good temperament at the same time. Pagenaud made an interesting point that with each of the three full-time drivers all at the same point in their careers – they all have one championship and none has an Indianapolis 500 victory yet – none has the upper hand, and there isn’t the “aura” of Castroneves’ three ‘500 wins hanging over their head.

On top of that, Pagenaud cracked several jokes and hailed his involvement as part of the “Penske Games” social media competition the team created. In some respects, Pagenaud hailed his own lack of success there to generate more notoriety!

SPM’S SMASH, RETURN, THEN PRE-SEBRING SCRAMBLE

The 2018 Dallara UAK got its first crash test – particularly inadvertently – by James Hinchcliffe during testing last week at Phoenix International Raceway (soon to be ISM Raceway). The team was still in the process of diagnosing what caused a crash at Turn 3 of the 1-mile oval, an odd place to have an impact.

What it’s meant was the car, which is short on spare parts at the moment, had to make it back to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Indianapolis shop and get rebuilt over a 48-hour period in advance of this week’s final round of 2017 testing at Sebring International Raceway’s short course. Testing can run through December 14 before the holiday blackout, and before testing shifts from manufacturer testing to team testing after the new year.

SCHMIDT’S SHANK SYNC-UP FURTHER DETAILS

Schmidt, Steve Eriksen (HPD), Harvey and Shank. Photo: IndyCar

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt was present at Michael Shank’s combination IndyCar and sports car announcements on Friday, which confirmed further details of Jack Harvey’s program for next season. It’s meant to be a three-year deal, and will begin with the six races Harvey will run in 2018. Will Anderson, who has been an assistant engineer with SPM for several years after joining from Dale Coyne Racing, will be Harvey’s race engineer.

SPM will loan a chassis to Shank for testing in January before Shank’s team receives its chassis in February, and that’s an interesting point to note. Schmidt said SPM, which saw its proposed deal with Calmels Sport for next year’s Indianapolis 500 fall through, could still run a third in-house SPM car for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 beyond the two full-time entries and the MSR/Shank car for Harvey.

But Schmidt’s long-term belief and relationship with Harvey helped make the move a reality, as Harvey drove two really strong years with the team in Indy Lights.

“His timeline is our timeline; we were not going to do it for only one year,” Schmidt told NBC Sports. “Jack has been a part of this team for several years and our job is to help him and Mike continue to grow in their IndyCar careers.”

FURTHER TBA’S GETTING REVEALED SOON?

Gathered around the Bell booth in Indy. Photo: IndyCar

If the rumor mill is to be believed, next week could see at least one if not both of the two known outstanding TBA slots at Dale Coyne Racing (No. 19 Honda) and Ed Carpenter Racing (No. 20 Chevrolet for road and street courses) get revealed.

We spoke to Carpenter at the PRI Show who confirmed the No. 20 car’s road and street course car is “close” to being filled, and is down to just two potential candidates. Asked when he wanted to announce, Carpenter deadpanned, “Last week!”

If you know the names of the free agents that are already out there, you pretty much know who’s in the frame for these two seats.

Carpenter has one more round of testing this week at Sebring. The team has been busy with testing at multiple tracks, and has moved into its new shop on Georgetown Rd. from its previous location near IMS in Speedway, Ind.

BUSY TIMES AT BELL BOOTH WITH INDY, MRTI DRIVERS

Both Carpenter and Spencer Pigot were among a bevy of IndyCar and Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires drivers on the Bell Racing U.S.A. stage during the weekend. Others included Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Conor Daly, Zach Veach, Jack Harvey and Pippa Mann, and MRTI veterans Aaron Telitz, Ayla Agren, Juan Piedrahita and Colton Herta.

Additionally, Bell announced it will be opening a pro shop in Speedway. It’s busy times for the helmet manufacturer but one that is held in high regard in the open-wheel and sports car communities.

GOOD TIMES FOR DUSICK’S CHARITY EVENT

Another of the quickly-becoming-a-PRI-staple type events is the “Racers Know Dave Dusick” charity fundraiser, supported by Cooper Tires, which this year supported the Riley Children’s Foundation. That foundation supports Riley Hospital for Children, Indiana’s only comprehensive hospital dedicated exclusively to the care of kids.

A further recap can be found via Dusick’s @IKnowDaveDusick Twitter account; Dusick is a veteran behind-the-scenes member of the racing community, primarily known for his Race Track Engineering business and a member of race control groups in various series. A tweet from Alexander Rossi is below.

CALLAWAY CONFIRMATION GIVES PWC NEEDED SHOT IN THE ARM

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC

Pirelli World Challenge got three good pieces of news in a two-day period last week, with first the pair of Wednesday announcements that K-PAX Racing would switch to Bentley’s Continental GT3 models and Robinson Racing would run a pair of Mercedes-AMG GT4s in the GTS class.

Confirmation of Callaway’s team program for GT in 2018, with Michael Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz the two drivers revealed there, was an added bonus. The striking Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R was unveiled in full, with comments from Reeves Callaway and WC Vision head Greg Gill, with other series insiders present. Aided by the addition of Erin Gahagan as team manager, who has recent PWC experience with EFFORT Racing, that should help Callaway in its entry into the championship. She will continue as team manager for the Tequila Patron ESM team with its Nissan Onroak DPi in IMSA for another season as well.

Cooper’s confirmation keeps him in another GM model after developing into a top-line GT driver the last couple seasons in one of the factory Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.Rs, and after winning a GTS championship in a Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R prior to that. Keilwitz, an ADAC GT Masters veteran, will be new to the U.S. but should learn quickly as other European converts tend to do.

“In a word, hallelujah,” was Gill’s immediate take at the presentation of the new car.

PWC also held its annual “State of the Series” meeting for competitors on Friday afternoon. A combination of the usual marketing, competition and communication updates were revealed to competitors. Some more intriguing elements from that should be revealed at a later date.