Back from the brink, there are signs of life at Caterham once again


Against all of the odds, Caterham appears to have prevented its own collapse – or, to be more precise, the new administration has done that, in spite of the mess that they were handed a few weeks ago.

For when Tony Fernandes and Engavest entered a war of words over the internet, the alarm bells were ringing louder than ever. Quite clearly, the Caterham ship was sinking. From jet-lagged drivers to a Romanian soccer player that became a cleaner and then a director, the whole thing was a farce.

So when administrator Finbarr O’Connell took over at Leafield, his goal of getting the team back on the grid this season seemed to be a bit far off – yet he appears to have just about done the impossible.

Today, Caterham confirmed its intention to race at the final round of the year in Abu Dhabi, saying that it was thanks to the support of the fans through a controversial crowdfunding campaign that such a feat was possible. The task had been to raise $3.7m from fan donations to get the team on the grid by 7pm ET tonight.

Now though, the goalposts have moved. The deadline was moved to 7pm ET on November 23rd, following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the very race that the money was supposed to be going towards.

Here’s a quick run-down on how crowdfunding works. A group has a project (in this case, an F1 team) that needs funding. It asks strangers (in this case, fans) for donations in return for some perks. Said fans donate money that will only be taken from them if the whole target is met. If the target is met, the money is taken, the team dishes out the perks, and everyone is happy.

So in the case of Caterham, the crowdfunding was not a financially-driven project: it was to show that there was the support and care from the F1 community to make the team investable. Given that the team is now set to line up on the grid, it has certainly worked. O’Connell has pulled off a masterstroke.

Moving the goalposts may seem strange, but it is permitted in the small print of the crowdfunding agreement on the website used by Caterham called Crowdcube (which, interestingly, already has links to the company O’Connell works for). So really, it has been extended not to raise more money for Abu Dhabi, but instead to give the fans a chance to buy some very exclusive goods.

It will be interesting to see how the fundraising drive grows from here on in. In fact, this morning, I was in the process of writing an article on how the campaign was ailing, given that they were 40% shy of the target with less than 12 hours to go. Three hours later, they were just 20% short – it had jumped by hundreds of thousands of dollars, so I scrapped the article. On average – that is, dividing the number of backers by the figure raised; £1.89m by 5,276 backers – fans have donated £445, or $700. Curious that Caterham’s fan base has very deep pockets…

As the threat of three car teams lingers, it is for the good of the sport that Caterham does return. Let us hope that O’Connell’s drive does indeed get it on the grid in Abu Dhabi and perhaps lay down the foundations for a sale and rebrand in 2015 that will see it racing, even if it is at the back.

What must be stressed is that the list of creditors for the team is still very long indeed. There still needs to be a great deal of interest and investment to make the long-term future of the operation viable. For starters, though, the signs are quietly encouraging.