2014 Mid-Season Analysis – Caterham

From the outset of the season, Caterham had earmarked 2014 as their do or die season. A quick glance at their championship standings and points tally reveals that the back-marker has, in a sense, died.

Calling for an improvement from the opening round of the season, Tony Fernandes was incidentally the very reason why Caterham was set to fail; he raised the performance quota for his team, yet reportedly offered the team very little extra funding to build a competitive car.

Never interested in the sport so much as the marketing, Tony Fernandes' departure from F1 is welcome news.

Never interested in the sport so much as the marketing, Tony Fernandes’ departure from F1 is welcome news.

So it was that the predictable happened; Caterham failed to build a car capable of challenging for points. The ugliest duckling of the year, the CT05 was rarely capable of keeping pace with fellow back-markers Marussia. With Marussia netting their first points and putting them all but beyond Caterham’s reach, Tony Fernandes effectively folded the team and left Formula 1 for good.

Never interested in the sporting side of F1 so much as he was in the marketability of the sport, Fernandes’ departure is a good thing for both the team and Formula 1 as a whole – what need has the sport for so many money-grubbing businessmen?

For a brief period, it looked like Caterham might go missing from the grid with the airline CEO, but a late-night deal with a consortium of mysterious rich men has guaranteed the Caterham name and its two drivers will see the season through. Many members of staff, however, were not so fortunate.

The CT05: Slow, Shoddy, and (still) Ugly

At the start of the season, I (and many aerodynamicists) suggested that Caterham’s polygonal front-end was an attempt to direct more air to the floor tray but that it was more likely to do nothing of the sort and instead cause excessive drag. Caterham’s low top-speed and poor cornering speeds suggests as much.

While the Renault engine isn’t helping anything, it can safely be declared that the extreme design can be chalked up as a failure – though a chevron is deserved for trying to innovate. The team’s quality control (as in aerodynamic appendages falling off of the car) is still an issue as well.

When the CT05 is actually running, it is lucky to be within a shout of a rival Marussia.

When the CT05 is actually running, it is lucky to be within a shout of a rival Marussia.

Reliability has cost the CT05 as well. If the Caterham weren’t so busy being broken all of the time, the team might have succeeded in scoring some chance points earlier in the season. The CT-05 has only come across the line for both drivers five times this season.

There is still some slight hope for the team under their new management though. As soon as Fernandes handed over the reins, Caterham began closing back in on Marussia. Marcus Ericsson’s 11th place finish at Monaco also has him placed ahead of Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado in the WDC as well, so the team could still finish ahead of Sauber if the pieces fall into place.

Driver: Kamui Kobayashi – Career in the Red

Dead last in the championship and unlikely to improve from there, Kamui Kobayashi's return to F1 may have been for naught.

Dead last in the championship and unlikely to improve from there, Kamui Kobayashi’s return to F1 may have been for naught.

As mentioned at the outset of the season, Kamui Kobayashi’s return to F1 was a gamble. He left Ferrari’s WEC team to shack up with a back-marker, burning his bridge back to Italy in the process. Now 11 races into the season, the Japanese driver is sat dead last in the championship.

On paper, it all looks very grim, and it’s hard to see a happy ending for the popular Japanese driver. With the arrival of new management, the team has already seen a huge turnover in all quarters of employment: most of the factory workers lost their jobs over night, and the team has even parted ways with long time Test Driver (and potential 2015 driver) Alexander Rossi.

While Kamui Kobayashi has indubitably asserted himself as the dominant driver in both qualifying speed and race pace, his results don’t show it: he sits dead last in the Drivers’ Championship.

His chance to score Caterham’s first ever world championship points was lost to a ballsy move through La Rascasse by Marussia’s Jules Bianchi at Monaco.

As other drivers in back marker teams have proven in the past, being the stronger driver doesn’t matter so much as being well-funded and putting in the team’s strongest results. His career as a driver in Formula 1 is going to require something special to survive.

Kobayashi's season began on the wrong foot, with a brake failure at the very start of the Australian Grand Prix costing him his strongest starting position this season.

Kobayashi’s season began on the wrong foot, with a brake failure at the very start of the Australian Grand Prix costing him his strongest starting position this season.

Marcus Ericsson – And you thought Chilton was bad

Easily the most widely doubted driver to set foot in a Formula 1 car since Max Chilton (okay, so there was only one year between them – so what?), Marcus Ericsson’s WDC ranking of 18th belies the fact that he is quite likely the worst driver on the grid this year.

Ericsson took a mere seven laps to bin his car at the most recent race in Hungary - not that he was really competing at that point.

Ericsson took a mere seven laps to bin his car at the most recent race in Hungary – not that he was really competing at that point.

Whenever the Caterham isn’t busy being broken, there’s a strong chance that Ericsson is busy contemplating which wall he wants to crash into next. He has crashed out of three qualifying sessions so far, and binned his car seven laps into the Hungarian Grand Prix. Though reliability has also damaged his campaign this year, his race pace and qualifying speed are so far off of his teammate that it’s unlikely he could take the fight to anyone regardless.

His lucky finish of 11th at Monaco might have him ahead of his teammate, but this young Swede is no second coming of Ronnie Peterson. He’s just a lad who put in some okay GP2 results and had enough money to buy his way into the team.

With plenty of well-funded and quick drivers in the feeder categories, it’s hard to see Ericsson spending more than one season on the grid.

Stat Shot:

Kamui Kobayashi has out-qualified Marcus Ericsson: 9-2.
The average qualifying gap between the two drivers is 0.749s in Kobayashi’s favour.Kobayshi’s averaged qualifying position is 19.45, and his best result in qualifying was 15th.
Ericsson’s averaged qualifying position is 21, and his best result in qualifying is 20th.

Of the five races that have seen both cars finish, Kobayashi has led Ericsson home 4 – 1.
Kamui’s averaged finishing position is 15.14, and his best is 13th.
Ericsson’s averaged finishing position is 16.83, and his best is 11th.

Caterham is currently ranked 11th and last in the World Constructors’ Championship with 0 points.
Kamui Kobayashi is currently ranked 22nd and last in the World Drivers’ Championship with 0 points.
Marcus Ericsson is currently ranked 18th in the World Drivers’ Championship with 0 points.

Note: Averaged positions are based on the mathematical average of a driver’s starting position before any penalties were applied.

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