As Spa approaches, Caterham hopes to make some big gains

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Formula 1’s summer shutdown is an important part of the sport’s structure and season. As frustrating as it may be to the fans, it does give all the teams and drivers a chance to refresh and refocus ahead of the run-in.

For Caterham, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on what has been a turbulent six week period. Following Tony Fernandes’ sale of the team, there have been a number of big changes.

A new consortium made up of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors has taken charge, introducing former F1 driver Christijan Albers as team principal. There have also been staff cuts, law suits, rebuttals… all rather crazy.

Ever since the new management came into force at Leafield, the focus always was on the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. This was intended to be the ‘hail mary’; the final roll of the dice to see if something could be salvaged from the 2014 season. The finance that has been put in place has been used to develop some upgrades for the car, which should see the removal of the ugly “alien” nose (as it was dubbed by former team boss Cyril Abiteboul). However, it should also see the gap to Marussia get cut.

Caterham needs to consider just what is possible over the final eight race stint of the 2014 season. The battles currently revolve around positions nine, ten and eleven in the constructors’ championship. Marussia sits ninth after Jules Bianchi scored its first ever points at the Monaco Grand Prix, but the team still lacks the pace of Sauber, which is tenth. If Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez can keep it on track, a race of attrition could play into their hands.

Frankly, for Caterham, even producing upgrades to get back ahead of Marussia may not be enough. Bianchi’s drive in Monaco was incredible, but without incidents ahead, he would never have finished ninth. Perhaps Caterham’s hopes lie with getting ahead of Marussia and seeing a similar race unfold.

Albers has remained tight-lipped about the chances of replacing either one of his drivers before the end of the season, meaning that the pressure is on both Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson ahead of F1’s return next weekend. Both will want to see out the season even if their hopes of going much further are slim.

With eight races to go, Caterham still has a lot to play for. Next Sunday’s race should give us some idea of just how much it can theoretically achieve before the season is out.

Beyond that? It is unclear just what will happen. Paddock speculation continues to suggest that the team could undergo a rebrand with Colin Kolles – who brokered the original deal – to become Forza Rossa, but in the short term, Caterham’s focus must lie with finishing tenth or higher in the constructors’.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.