What next for Caterham?
Newly-appointed Caterham team principal Christijan Albers had a most peculiar interview on the official F1 website recently.
Q: “You will have the role of team principal – will that mean that you are the person that will sit at the team principal’s meetings and deal with FOM and the FIA?”
Christijan Albers: “I am team principal and Manfredi Ravetto is general manager and deputy team principal.”
As non-committal answers go, Albers’ is about as revealing as a campaign manager during an election eve. What his comments (or lack of) does tell you is that Caterham is becoming a very politically charged environment. Much like Jaguar’s transformation into Red Bull, nobody is prepared to stick their head above the parapet, making Albers’ assertion they are chasing 10th all the more fanciful. Yes, there were definite areas of waste at Caterham. However, sacking workers without benefits is a little beyond the pale – but an unfortunate reality during a change of ownership. Considering the way Tony Fernandes refused to confirm any potential change of ownership (even to his staff) before the eventual transition, the lack of notice is not surprising.
The side-effect of departures of course is remaining staff having to step into roles they were not intending to. Gianluca Pisanello has been promoted to head of trackside engineering, although it is rumoured he had little interest of returning to the track in the first place. One promising appointment is that of ex-Mercedes DTM technical director Gerhard Ungar, who is being lined up for a management role. Toto Wolff was most complimentary of Ungar, stating that he “has fundamentally influenced Mercedes-Benz’s success in the DTM.”
Despite the junior categories still running under Fernandes, Alexander Rossi must have seen any progression was hopeless, as evident from his defection from the Caterham junior program to Marussia. Kamui Kobayashi certainly has not been a picture of optimism either. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall as early as Melbourne.
Since ownership of the Leafield squad was handed over to a consortium of Swiss and Middle-Eastern investors (the details of which is little known – even Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters separately he had no idea who they were), Colin Kolles has been advising them on ways of cutting costs and improving their on-track fortunes. Kolles told BBC Sport at Silverstone: “I am known for efficiency. F1 is efficiency. It is sporting performance and also financial performance.”
In this respect it is unlikely that any consortium would buy a team just to shut it down, but is Kolles secretly hoping to use Caterham as a skeleton operation as a springboard for his Romanian Formula 1 operation, Forza Rossa? In banking terms it is what they call a ‘back door listing’; buy into an existing operation, take all the good parts and throwing out the bad. Either that or devalue the team for a cheap takeover…
Kolles has his own technical group planned for Forza Rossa’s entry in 2015 (already FIA approved), led by former HRT chief designer Paul White (responsible for the Lotus-AER T129 that will compete in the second half of the 2014 World Endurance Championship).
The team will be bankrolled by former Romanian health minister Ion Bazac, who is also the country’s Ferrari importer under the Forza Rossa banner. If Kolles is hedging his bets on a customer car rules change, then Maranello could be a potential supplier – coincidentally already supporting Caterham’s chief opposition, Marussia.
Kolles’ assertion that “Caterham need to change to survive” might be a truism, but what they change into is a whole other matter.
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