Caterham could miss Austin as crisis deepens at Leafield


It’s been quite the day for Caterham F1 Team. After months of uncertainty and continual promises of a resolution to the problems blighting the Leafield-based team, a statement was released yesterday revealing that the new buyers of the team – a consortium made up of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors – had not had the shares transferred to them by previous owner Tony Fernandes.

Except he isn’t the previous owner – Fernandes still owns Caterham F1 Team despite claiming earlier this month that he no longer had anything to do with the operation. The Malaysian businessman sent out a tweet yesterday saying: “If you buy something, you should pay for it. It’s quite simple”.

The impasse appears to be like this: Fernandes claims not to have received his payment, while the potential new owners claim they have made it, but have not received the shares in return.

This was put in black and white today when the new owners, a Swiss company called Engavest SA, issued the following statement:

“On 29 June 2014 Engavest SA signed a sale and purchase agreement with Tony Fernandes and Caterham Group to acquire the shares of 1Malaysia Racing Team/Caterham F1.

“Engavest SA has fulfilled all the conditions precedent, including paying the purchase price for the shares. The shares have not been transferred and therefore Mr Fernandes remains the owner of Caterham F1 and is fully responsible for all its activities.”

In response, Tony Fernandes stated: “We agreed in good faith to sell the shares to a Swiss company named ‘Engavest’ on the basis that Engavest undertook to pay all of the existing and future creditors, including the staff.

“The continued payment of staff and creditors was so important to me that I ensured that the shares would not be transferred to the new buyers unless they complied with this condition.

“Sadly, Engavest has failed to comply with any of the conditions in the agreement and Caterham Sports Ltd (the UK operating company of the F1 team) has had to be put into administration by the bank, with large sums owing to numerous creditors.

“Our agreement with Engavest was very clear: there was no legal obligation to transfer the shares to them unless certain conditions – which included paying creditors – were met. Those conditions have not been met.”

With Caterham Sports Ltd being put into administration, workers at the factory in Leafield were prevented access from the site by administrator Finbarr O’Connell.

“They can’t get into the factory today,” the administrator confirmed to Reuters. “They are using my facilities and haven’t paid me.

“Effectively 1MRT have been in the building for last few days since I arrived.

“We are trying to reach an acceptable arrangement for them to be there. We had a meeting yesterday with 1MRT and lawyers and the offer they made was unacceptable. So I’ve sent them away.

“Hopefully they can come up with an acceptable proposal. I don’t think this is gone. It’s just a case of who has got the money to make it work.”

So while the ownership of the team remains in the lurch and the employees are unable to access the factory at Leafield, Caterham’s involvement in the United States Grand Prix next week seems to be in serious doubt.

However, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone confirmed to the BBC that he is looking into ways to save Caterham despite saying in the past that he would rather have ten teams in Formula 1.

“We’re trying to help in any way, which we do with anybody that has run into a bit of difficulty,” the F1 supremo said.

Ever since Fernandes’ supposed sale of the team at the end of June, the alarm bells have been ringing at Caterham. A number of employees at Leafield were dismissed, prompting legal action being taken by both the ex-workers and the team against each other.

In Russia, Kamui Kobayashi was even ordered to stop his car despite there being nothing wrong with it, suggesting that the team needed to preserve the life of the parts beyond the race weekend. Manfredi Ravetto had been in charge of the team, but he has now also been relieved of his duties.

Former F1 team principal Colin Kolles brokered the deal, and has admitted that the team’s hopes of going to Austin were dependent on the administrator and its negotiations.

This saga looks set to rumble on, but if a solution doesn’t come in the next few days, we are poised to have a 20-car grid for the United States Grand Prix in Austin at the beginning of next month.

UPDATE 1425 ET – Engavest has issued a statement in response to Tony Fernandes’ claims:

“Engavest SA strongly refutes the allegations of Tony Fernandes and Caterham Group CEO Graham MacDonald regarding its conduct while trying to purchase Caterham F1. Our statement of earlier today still stands.

“Every single condition precedent of the Sales and Purchase Agreement for which Engavest was responsible has been met. Only the seller, which includes Mr Fernandes, failed to meet his obligations. All salaries have been paid.

“The claims of Mr Fernandes and Mr MacDonald contradict their own press statement dated 3 October 2014.

“Incidents such as a Caterham Group representative forcibly breaking into a filing cabinet containing our private and confidential documents and the continued refusal to deal with the outstanding loan of Exim Bank and complete the agreement has culminated in Engavest’s total contempt of Mr Fernandes and his Group executives with whom we entered a deal in good faith.”

And so the plot thickens…

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.