The team, who sported an eye-catching new colour scheme this season, had to divert most of their resources to the 2014 car due to the up-coming regulation changes. The CT03 was very much an evolution of the previous year’s machine that powered them to the top 10 in the teams’ championship for the third consecutive season.
Driving their not-so-new car was a brand new driver pairing, with Charles Pic moving from Marussia to partner long-term F1 tester Giedo van der Garde. After dropping the experienced Heikki Kovalainen, they soon re-hired him as a test driver to help point the team in the right direction.
They started the year on the back-foot, with Marussia’s car proving to be quicker in the early stages. This proved to be crucial in the championship as their rivals, particularly Jules Bianchi, took advantage of the opportunities to secure a 13th place finish in Malaysia.
It was instantly clear that the team wouldn’t be challenging the midfield, failing once again on their promise to move up the order. It was unsurprising though due to the lack of developments between 2012 and 2013, with the Leafield-based squad looking ahead to next season.
Upgrades in Bahrain and Spain helped the team move off the back row of the grid. With the help of several first practice runs for Heikki Kovalainen, the team did make steps forward as the season progressed. However, it wasn’t enough to equal Bianchi’s 13th place.
They got close though. Just one more retirement in both Hungary and Korea would have lifted the team into the sought-after position that they have held since joining F1 under the ‘Lotus Racing’ guise in 2010.
Their driver pairing proved to be quite equally matched, although van der Garde scored several stand-out results. He particularly impressed in changeable qualifying conditions and snuck into Q2 in Monaco and Spa.
The Dutch driver has been on the fringes of F1 for quite some time and was promoted from his reserve role at Caterham this season. Many expected Pic to lead the way due to his previous season at Marussia, but van der Garde gave him a good run for his money. The 28-year-old finished ahead of his French team-mate eight times in qualifying and four times on race day.
Unfortunately Pic’s experience really showed, with van der Garde getting caught up in several incidents over the course of his rookie season. He made early exits in Japan and India and collided with both Mark Webber and Nico Hulkenberg while being lapped in Canada.
Caterham hoped for a repeat of last year’s season finale when they arrived in Brazil at the end of November. The team snatched the coveted 10th place from Marussia in the closing stages of rain-affected 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix at the Interlagos circuit. However just three cars retired from the race, including Pic, and van der Garde could only come home in 18th.
After their disappointing 2013 campaign, focus now fully switches to what will be a dramatically different sport next season. The team’s gamble of diverting their resources to 2014 early in the year could well pay off, but there are so many unknowns surrounding the new regulations.
However, it will certainly give the team their best chance yet of elevating themselves up the order.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic