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

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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.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).