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’.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.