Testing for the 2013 Formula One season begins on 5 February, which is just 22 days away. All of the teams will be quite far into their pre-season car development and anticipation for the new season is no doubt building in team factories all over Britain and parts of Europe. But at Caterham, a crucial part of pre-season preparation has yet to be completed – the all-important driver line-up.
Caterham signed Charles Pic towards the end of last year, after the Frenchman impressed during his debut season at Marussia. But the identity of Pic’s team-mate is as yet unknown. Caterham’s 2012 drivers were Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov, and between them they delivered tenth place in the Constructors’ Championship, but it now looks possible that neither will feature on the 2013 grid.
Kovalainen is unusual in a back-of-the-field team in that he was paid a salary by Caterham (formerly Lotus) for the past three seasons – most small-budget teams look for drivers who provide funding from their personal sponsors. Kovalainen has resisted the “pay driver” label and is determined to find a race drive without having to secure his own sponsorship. Unfortunately for the highly regarded Finnish driver, budget is king in a developing team and it therefore comes as no surprise that he is not even in the running to retain his seat at Caterham.
Petrov, on the other hand, has been a pay driver from the start of his Formula One career. After two seasons with Renault (now Lotus), Petrov lost his seat to Romain Grosjean and moved to Caterham, where he was expected to be outpaced by Kovalainen. Instead, the Russian had an impressive 2012, in which he scored a vital 11th place in Brazil to secure tenth place in the Constructors’ Championship for the team. Petrov is expected to remain with Caterham if he can find sufficient funding, but that plan seems to be stalling at the moment as Petrov’s management struggles to secure the necessary sponsorship.
Caterham are reportedly looking at three possible alternatives to Petrov – 2012 Caterham reserve driver Giedo van der Garde, 2012 GP2 runner-up Luis Razia and 2012 Williams driver Bruno Senna – all of whom are expected to bring larger budgets than Petrov. The Russian does have the advantage of three years of Formula One experience, and has completed a full season with Caterham. Whether or not that experience will outweigh the larger budgets of his rivals remains to be seen.