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Caterham to launch at first test

Caterham have become the latest team to announce a launch date for their 2013 car.

The new Caterham will be called the CT03, and will be rolled out into the pitlane for the world to see at 08:45 on the morning of 5 February 2013, shortly before the first day of pre-season testing gets underway in Jerez, Spain. As yet, only Charles Pic has been announced as being part of the team’s 2013 driver line-up, which suggests that the young Frenchman will also be the first to drive the new car.

Photos and analysis will be available on chrisonf1.com as soon as the team unveils the car.

For the full launch and testing schedule, as revealed so far, click here.

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Caterham driver line-up remains incomplete

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.

Pic signs for Caterham

Charles Pic has agreed to drive for Caterham from 2013 on a “multi-year contract”, the team announced yesterday.

Frenchman Pic is in only his first season of Formula One, having joined Marussia to partner Timo Glock for 2012. Pic has compared well to his much more experienced team-mate, notably out-qualifying Glock by half a second at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

Caterham, previously known as Lotus Racing and then Team Lotus, has easily been the most impressive of the three “new” teams since appearing in 2010. Part of the team’s success is due to prize money received from finishing 10th in the Constructors’ Championship in 2010 and 2011. The bottom two teams receive no prize money, which is a significant disadvantage and has hurt Marussia and HRT’s progress.

This season, however, Marussia look set to take that coveted 10th spot, and thereby receive the prize money that was expected to go to Caterham. Timo Glock finished an unlikely 12th in Singapore, which puts his Marussia team ahead of Caterham in the Constructors’ Championship. Nonetheless, Caterham are still considered the strongest of the three bottom teams.

2012 has easily been Marussia’s most competitive season to date. With extra, perhaps unexpected, funding for 2013, the team is likely to move forward further. If Caterham are to continue their run of progress, they will need to find an alternative source of funding – read sponsorship – to fill the gap left by the Formula One prize-money. Could Pic be that alternative source of funding?

There is no doubt that Pic has talent. He has shown it on the race track throughout the season. He also brings crucial sponsorship to a struggling team. Whether for reasons of talent or finance, he has been offered an opportunity to move to a more competitive team, and he has seized it with both hands. Next season will show more of what he can do, particularly as he now has a full season of Formula One racing under his belt. The only question now concerns the identity of his team-mate. Kovalainen and Petrov are the team’s current drivers, but neither has been confirmed for next season.

This is what Caterham and Pic had to say regarding their new contract:

Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal of Caterham F1 Team:

“We are thrilled that Charles has decided to join us for his second season in F1 and beyond. We are all looking forward to working with a young driver who has clearly shown in his first season in F1 that he has the pace, racecraft and demeanour to help us achieve our goals.

“Throughout the 2012 season we have been monitoring the progress that Charles has made, challenging us on several occasions in qualifying, and it is clear that he is a special talent. As the year has progressed he has performed extremely well against a very experienced teammate and we are looking forward to seeing him develop further within the environment we will provide in 2013 and beyond.

“We will continue growing together, and the energy and image he will bring to our team and his partners will be a very positive influence on the seasons that lie ahead. Being able to make this announcement before the end of the current season gives us the chance now to allow Charles and the team to prepare fully for the 2013 season and quickly learn how to maximise the performance benefits of the Renault Sport F1 and Red Bull Technology powertrain that will be new to him.”

Charles Pic:

“I am very proud to be able to confirm that I am joining Caterham F1 Team next year and I’m looking forward to many seasons of successful racing co-operation. I’m enthusiastic to have the opportunity to continue to grow in a team that has a technical relationship with a number of French global companies, including Renault and Total, plus an official partnership with EADS. It is clear that the team has great ambitions for the future: the investments already made and the decisions taken in the last few months show how committed the shareholders are to succeed and demonstrates their willingness to keep going forward.

“The prospect of the automotive industry project nurtured by Caterham Group to produce sports road cars in conjunction with Renault is another reason for my decision to join the team. I would like to thank Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun for the roles they have played in helping make this dream come true.

“I am very excited about starting my second year in F1 with a team that has so much potential. Caterham F1 Team has everything in place to help it move into a position to fight with a number of teams ahead. I know how determined the team is to keep progressing and I am looking forward to playing my part in helping them move up the grid.”

Pic gets first engine change penalty of 2012

The current Formula One season has seen grid penalties handed out for all sorts of reasons, from gearbox changes to causing collisions to impeding drivers during qualifying. At this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix, Marussia’s Charles Pic becomes the first driver to receive a grid penalty for an engine change.

Each driver is permitted to use eight engines per season, and may choose freely when to use each available engine. For every additional engine used, however, the driver will incur a ten-place grid penalty for the race at which it is first used. Pic will use his ninth Cosworth engine of the season on Sunday, and therefore receives the prescribed penalty.

For a front-runner, a ten-place penalty would be extremely damaging. For Charles Pic, however, the penalty will have very little impact. A qualifying position of 14th or lower will result in the Frenchman starting last on the grid. Considering that his best qualifying result of the year so far is 19th, Pic’s only task in qualifying is to be within 107% of the fastest time in Q1, which should not be a problem even on the prime tyres – on option tyres in Q1 for last week’s Japanese Grand Prix, Pic was three seconds quicker than the 107% time. He can therefore save an additional set of supersoft tyres for the race.

Despite the lack of impact on Charles Pic’s weekend, penalties for engine changes are likely to become topical in the next few weeks, particularly among the front-running teams where grid position could have a material effect on the outcome of the championship. Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel would be very unhappy to have an extra ten cars to pass at the start of a race.

Pic tops FP2 at Spa

Rain can play havoc with the time-sheets, and today was no exception. Free Practice 2 was so wet that only 10 drivers set laptimes, and all of those laps were finished after the chequered flag fell. When the spray settled, Marussia’s Charles Pic emerged quickest.

Practice times are normally difficult to interpret, as the top teams often do not reveal their true pace until qualifying. Today’s laptimes are, as a result of the weather, practically meaningless. Marussia certainly do not have the fastest car. Pic’s time reveals nothing at all about the pace of the Marussia, although he will no doubt appreciate (and probably chuckle at) having his name at the top of the time-sheets.

The rain effectively made today’s running useless for all of the teams. No useful dry setup work could be done in the difficult conditions, and that includes testing of new parts. Lotus in particular will be frustrated by the lack of dry running, as they had intended to run their new “double” DRS device this weekend, but have had to abandon that plan due to a lack of calibration time.

Only one practice session remains before qualifying, which means that tomorrow morning should see a very crowded track as all of the teams and drivers attempt to cram 2 days work into the one hour session that is FP3. Ideally, that should mean a very close qualifying session, weather permitting.

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