Interview with Caterham’s Mike Gascoyne
Mike Gascoyne’s tenure at Caterham is one of the longest during his varied Formula One career. After signing off on the CT05, Mike and the team begin what will no doubt be their most difficult technical challenge to date. Caterham’s Group technical officer and CEO took time out from pre-season testing to chat with Trent Price about adapting to the regulation changes, Renault’s cooling solutions, cost cutting and of course his ‘other’ career on the water.
You and Brian Thompson finished an impressive 14th in class for the Transat Jacques Vabre, but numbers probably don’t tell the whole story. What was the biggest challenge over the journey?
Fourth would have been impressive. Fourteenth wasn’t impressive. Although numbers do not tell the whole story. We were very pleased to get to the finish of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Ultimately it could have been a lot better than fourteenth. Unfortunately, west of Lisbon we had a problem with the mainsail which led to a big rip in the mainsail. We had to repair the sail and lost some miles but we managed to catch the group in front up by the Doldrums. Unfortunately the repair then failed and we had to stop in Recife to repair the sail properly so we lost a lot of time which meant we slipped back to fourteenth. We could have had a much better finish but overall I am very pleased to finish my first Transat Jacques Vabre.
It was your second transatlantic challenge. As such did you feel more comfortable heading into the event? What kind of relationship do you need to have with your co-skipper?
I felt much more comfortable having done a solo transatlantic trip but also to be sailing with Brian Thompson. Brian is one of the most experienced off shore skippers in the world and I learnt a huge amount from him. We work very well together and we get on very well personally. Knowing that you have got someone with such experience and also someone you get along with and learn from was a great feeling.
Obviously a lot has been made (from mainly non-motorsport press) about Michael Schumacher’s shocking accident in the French Alps. As an avid paraglider and mountaineer, do you think there’s been an overreaction to motorsport professional’s extra curricular activities?
I think there has got to be a balance. If you are paid to do a very important job, like a Formula One driver, then you have to take that into account because you have a lot of responsibility for that and a lot of responsibility to be fit and to be able to do your job. In Michael Schumacher’s case, he is retired, lots of people go skiing, it is just an unfortunate event and I don’t think it is anything other than that in Michael’s case. Ultimately, he is the guy he is, so he is going to want to go skiing and do things that are fun and it is all about managing the risk and that is for the individual. In Michael’s case, he was retired and so it is totally up to him what he did so it is just terribly unfortunate that it happened to anyone, not just Michael.
The Class40 yacht that you raced was born about keeping cost under control for competitors. Do you think the same could ever be achieved in Formula One or are some teams spending just enough to fit within the Resource Agreement, yet setting the bar just out of the reach of the minnow teams?
I think costs in Formula One has always been a big thing and controlling costs is very important for the sport. Unfortunately it has always been opposed by the big teams who have the budget because obviously they want to spend the money that they have and be ahead of the other teams but I think it is very important that Formula One does work to restrict costs. The past has shown that you need to be relatively firm with the rules and we need to have a cost cap and we need to enforce teams to work within that. I think self-regulation will never work.
You once described your role at previous teams as a kind of sheriff walking into a border town to clean out the outlaws and then move on. How has the culture of Caterham changed since you first walked in the door?
Previously I worked at a lot of teams where I was brought in to fix the team and once that was done and a proper structure and management team and technical team was in place, very often someone else would come along and wanted me to do a similar job. I think that was different with Caterham. Setting the team up from scratch was a great challenge and new challenge. With the Caterham Group there have been other challenges in terms of Caterham Cars, Caterham Composites and Caterham Challenge with the boat project. I’m very much enjoying these different types of challenges.
Obviously a lot of ground work has gone into Caterham’s 2014 car, but can you give a brief rundown about what the team has been up to during the winter break? What has been the biggest technical challenge?
The new engines and engine installation is a huge challenge. During the winter break, getting the new car out is the priority but this year that task has been much bigger. With the new engine regulations and cooling requirements, that has been by far the biggest technical challenge.
I spoke with Remi Taffin last year and he mentioned that teams like Caterham and Williams sometimes concentrate more on aspect such as engine efficiency than the bigger teams do. Do you think the new regulations will help or hinder teams that have spent a lot of time on this area?
I think all of the teams will have spent a huge amount of time on engine installation and engine efficiency because of the new engine regulations. All the teams will have allocated the necessary resource to that area because it is so critical.
In Melbourne we’re currently experiencing a week of 45+ degrees. Do you think the Bahrain test will give an accurate picture of how well team’s cooling solutions will work or not (other than the obvious side-pod rethink)?
Bahrain, where the temperatures will be pretty high will be a very clear indication. From the initial tests in Jerez, teams will know the differences in temperature and what that causes to the engine. I do think the cooling solutions will be absolutely critical this year and some teams will be suffering early on.
What’s your take on Honda? Do you think having a year to test without restrictions will present gains for the Japanese manufacturer or is there no substitute for competitive racing?
Honda has probably been reasonably clever. It is a steep learning curve for all the new engine manufacturers this year. They have been developing their engines while racing their old engines. A lot of progress will be made on the engines in the first few months of racing and Honda will be able to benefit from that. Honda will hit the ground running in a year’s time.
Finally, what was your take on the 2013 mid-year tyre construction change? A lot was made of Lotus F1 Team’s and Force India’s situation, but not so much further down the grid.
Whenever you can a change mid-year, it is the same for everyone. Sometimes some teams use it as an excuse to mask other problems rather than it being a massive problem per se.
Thanks so much for your time Mike and all the best for this year.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic
Trent Price is an amateur race driver, former V8 race coach and FIA Accredited journalist from Melbourne, Australia. A former Race Editor for GP Week and contributor for ESPN, Trent is now the Editor of the WEC/Formula E magazine E-Racing; www.e-racingmag.com