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.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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