Friday 17th February 2012


CATERHAM: F1 AND THE FUTURE

We hang out with the Caterham F1 team at the first test of the season and check out its prospects for the year ahead


Multi-million pound business deals aren’t usually secured while wearing pyjamas. But that’s exactly how Caterham’s move into the F1 circus began.

Standing in front of the company’s very first F1 challenger, the CT01, Caterham’s Managing Director, Ansar Ali tells the tale of the not-so-auspicious start to the F1 venture.

Familiar colours but a new car and focus
Familiar colours but a new car and focus
“Tony Fernandes’s secretary had scheduled the meeting but translated it into Malaysian time so it was eight hours ahead. I turned up at 11 in the morning suited and booted, rang his doorbell and he basically said do you mind meeting me in my pyjamas? The deal was done 45 minutes later.”

18 months ago F1 wasn’t even on Caterham’s radar, with the manufacturer concentrating on developing its new SP/300.R track car and continuing production of its venerable 7. How things have changed.

Enter the new
Now the firm is here at Jerez for the first F1 test of the season things are very real, proven by the almost organic form of the CT01, resplendent in its pearlescent green and yellow livery, sitting right in front of us.

Old hand Gascoyne talks testing
Old hand Gascoyne talks testing
Testing has gone well according to Chief Technical Director, Mike Gascoyne. “We had a bit of a problem on the first day when we destroyed the starter spine on the gearbox – it was OK, we just couldn’t start it – but we’ve run the full four days [since] without a single problem.”

The team ran conservative fuel loads (we’re sworn to secrecy as to just how much juice was in the tank) but is confident that come lights out in Melbourne, it’ll be where it wants to be.

The KERS effect
Not least because of the addition of the all-important KERS system. Last year’s car – back when it was badged Team Lotus – didn’t have the luxury of the 80hp electric boost. But for this year the CT01 gets Red Bull’s 2012 system, mated to last year’s gearbox.

F1 car leads out other Caterham product
F1 car leads out other Caterham product
“The KERS has been remarkably straight forward, which we didn’t expect – both in terms of operating it on the car and servicing it. We’ve run the whole programme without a hiccup,” adds Gascoyne.

With a year’s development courtesy of the reigning champions, he’s confident that the cooling issues seen on the RB7 last year have been ironed out and that the system will help Caterham’s charge. “The lack of KERS really affected us last year and we couldn’t race with the other cars as we’d just get picked off. It’s important we implemented it for this year as without it you just can’t race – but we will be racing this year.”

The banning of blown diffusers will be a positive break for Caterham this season, too. “Our car didn’t really run much of a blown diffuser last year so we should benefit with the field closing up come the first race,” reckons Gascoyne. “Big teams with big budgets might gain a few tenths by blowing the rear wing but it’s no where near as big as the diffusers.”

Heikki to be joined by Vitaly Petrov
Heikki to be joined by Vitaly Petrov

So what do the At the wheeldrivers think? “The rear is stronger than the front at the moment because of the new tidier rear body work,” says Heikki Kovalainen, “but we know where we need to go – we’ve got a new front wing coming already and that should help cure the problem.”

Present for this test session, Jarno Trulli has since been replaced by Vitaly Petrov, the Russian sliding over from Lotus (don’t even go there) and bringing flesh blood to the team. While paying tribute to Trulli’s work with the team as it found its feet a statement from Tony Fernandes on Caterham F1’s website says “it is time to open a new chapter in our team’s story and Vitaly is the right person to help us do that.”

So the plan for the 2012 season looks promising for Caterham – the atmosphere around the garage in Jerez is one of real optimism and the team is pleased with how the shakedown of the CT01 has gone. Thanks to the new tyre and diffuser rules, along with addition of KERS, the car seems well equipped to launch a consistent assault on the likes of Williams, Sauber and Torro Rosso – the key midfield teams and company that Caterham needs to be keeping come the end of the season.

SP/300.R will be joined by new road car
SP/300.R will be joined by new road car
Future plans
When Caterham announced its move into F1 there were plenty of detractors who cried cynical marketing exercise and asked, “what will F1 mean for Caterham road cars?” Answer: improved performance, not softer cars to create more sales.

Thanks to the introduction of Caterham Technology and Innovation – the new company set up off the back of the F1 venture – composite expertise and knowledge gleaned through motorsport will filter through to Caterham road cars.

We reported on the firm’s plans for an all-new sports car by 2015 revealed by Ali at the Jerez test and there’ll be a healthy dose of F1 knowledge – if not directly related technology – instilled in the new product.

New territory
Primarily though, the F1 team will give Caterham a global platform from which to launch its products into new markets. We aren’t talking Ferrari levels of F1-related marketing but, according to Ali, “Fernandez’s reach into the far east and ability to communicate with emerging markets gives Caterham a massive opportunity to launch its new road car.”

There's still a place for the 7 in Caterham's world
There's still a place for the 7 in Caterham's world
It won’t be selling out and flogging the F1 thing for all it’s worth though. The firm still only has plans to produce a maximum of 2,500 units in 2015 across all models – including the race cars.

All the signs for a bright, and importantly sustainable future for Caterham – and a potentially successful year of competition at the highest level of world motorsport – look promising then. Don’t be surprised to see a green and yellow car score its first F1 points this season…

Author: carse