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.
Heikki Kovalainen: “Silverstone is a great track to race at, both because it’s one of our two home races and because it’s a proper driver’s track. Even with the changes that have been made over the years it is still what F1 is all about – high speed corners that really push the performance of the car. The new section is probably the least exciting bit of the track from inside the cockpit but the classic corners from Copse and Maggots to Beckets is right up there with some of the best corners on the calendar.
“Honestly, I can’t wait to get back in the car and see what we can do at this year’s British Grand Prix. At the last race in Valencia we clearly made improvements, enough to help me put the car into Q2 on merit and we have more upgrades coming for Silverstone. For this race it’s important that we carry our qualifying speed and good reliability through into Sunday as issues like the KERS problem I had in Valencia impact all the hard work the team is doing at the factory and in the wind tunnel to get us where we want to be. If we can do that I think we can have another very good weekend and I’m really looking forward to giving our home fans something to cheer for.”
Vitaly Petrov: “The British Grand Prix is one of the best races of the calendar for several reasons. It’s a fantastic place to race at because of the exciting atmosphere and the special love the British fans have for motorsport. As the UK is home to a lot of the teams, including Caterham F1 Team, the whole place is always full of fans, whether it’s raining or the sun is burning everybody! They are some of the most knowledgeable, passionate fans in the world and they give the whole place a special atmosphere all weekend.
“As we’ll be bringing more new parts to the British Grand Prix I think it’s another race where we’ll be able to take a step forwards. I’m sure everyone else will be bringing upgrades so we need to make sure that we don’t just make gains, but we improve more than our nearest rivals. That’s a big challenge but after seeing the gap to Toro Rosso shrink in Valencia we have a clear target just ahead and that gave the whole team a real boost. Hopefully we’ll be able to make similar levels of progress at Silverstone – if we do I think the British Grand Prix could be very interesting. The team made great progress in Valencia and I really hope that we will continue in the same manner at the next race.”
Mark Smith, Technical Director: “We left Valencia after a very positive weekend for the whole team. One of the most pleasing aspects for me was seeing that the numbers we had predicted for the upgrades we brought there matched what we did on track, and that gives us a lot of confidence that future upgrade packages should continue the trend we are seeing of the gap to the teams ahead shrinking.
“For Silverstone we will be bringing a number of new parts, including new rear bodywork, a revised exhaust layout and a number of smaller updates in other bodywork areas around the car. I do not want to make any predictions at this point on what they could be worth, but if we repeat the step forward we made in Valencia we should have another positive weekend.”
Tony Fernandes, Team Principal, Caterham F1 Team: “The European Grand Prix was a very significant race for our team as it was the first time we took on and beat an established midfield team in a straight fight on merit in qualifying. Yes, Heikki’s benefited from the issues Mark Webber had on Saturday, but we are now quick enough to take advantage of that sort of opportunity and knock one of the established teams back into the positions we have been filling since we started in the sport just over two and a half years ago.
“Our performance on Sunday was also extremely positive, with all areas of the team performing at 100% to help us record our best positions of the season, despite both cars being forced to change nosecones after contact with the Toro Rossos. We said at the start of the season that our goals for this year are to score our first point and to join the midfield and I think it is fair to say that we are achingly close to being able to achieve those targets.
“Silverstone will give us another chance to show that we can make good on those objectives and the upgrades we are bringing will give both Heikki and Vitaly the chance to repeat our qualifying performance in Valencia, and, more importantly, to be able to fight for their track positions from the moment the lights go out on Sunday, right to the end of the race. To see our cars racing a team who were 1.6 seconds ahead of us in qualifying for the first race this year is obviously a very good feeling, for me and my fellow shareholders, our partners and sponsors, our fans and the whole team.”
Heikki Kovalainen: “Next up it’s the European Grand Prix in Valencia. The track isn’t my favourite one of the season but it’s another great city to go to and another venue that makes the most of having F1 in town for the whole week so the atmosphere is around the whole event is great.
“The track itself is another temporary circuit, a sort of semi-street circuit. The track surface is very smooth and the kerbs aren’t really an issue but it is pretty stop / start, so you need to quickly find a good rhythm to manage the series of long straights that end in tight turns, and pay attention to brake wear rates and cooling. The brake cooling options we have for Valencia are similar to Canada but the track in Spain evolves much more over the race weekend than in Montreal so we’ll be looking closely at setup options that mean we can manage tyre degradation levels right through the whole weekend.”
Vitaly Petrov: “It’s always good to get back to Valencia. It’s a city I know well as I lived there for a couple of years while I was racing in GP2 and I have good memories of racing there as I took my first GP2 win in Valencia in 2007. My F1 results so far have not been quite that good, but it’s always a good challenge and one I’m looking forward to getting back to with Caterham F1 Team.
“I think the Valencia race and the next one at Silverstone could be pretty positive for our team. We have a few updates coming onto the cars at the next two races, and we keep seeing how the gap to the teams ahead is closing, little by little. That is the aim this year – work as hard as we can to get to the point where we’re racing a couple of cars ahead and then see where we go from there. We were closer than ever to Q2 on merit in qualifying in Canada, so let’s see what the upgrades we’re bringing to Valencia and Silverstone help us do.”
Mark Smith, Technical Director, Caterham F1 Team: “The Valencia circuit presents us with a few technical challenges that are similar to a couple of the other tracks we race on. As a temporary street circuit it obviously has big grip evolution over the weekend but the track surface is pretty abrasive, so deg levels are reasonably high throughout every session on track, particularly in FP1 when the surface is very dirty and what we call ‘green’. This means we not only need to manage tyre usage, so we have enough sets of new tyres for race day, it also means we have to work very closely with Renault Sport F1 on maximising traction and giving the drivers setup options that mean they can attack the traction zones after each braking point with confidence.
“With DRS engaged I suspect we will see similar levels of overtaking to 2011. The difference this year for us is that we expect to be much closer to the cars ahead than we were last year, giving us a chance perhaps to put one of our cars into Q2 and giving the drivers a real chance to race on Sunday. We have a couple of quite significant updates coming in Valencia and Silverstone – we will take a look at a number of new aerodynamic elements in Valencia as well as some minor modifications to the floor, and even though we will not know exactly what they will give us until we get out on track, we are cautiously optimistic they will help us keep edging ever closer to the midfield.”
Tony Fernandes, Team Principal, Caterham F1 Team: “These are very exciting times for everyone associated with Caterham F1 Team and the wider Caterham Group. At the next two F1 races, in Valencia and Silverstone, we will see the fruits of the hard work being done by everyone at the factory with a number of important upgrades on the cars. While we are honest enough with ourselves to know that these upgrades alone will not be enough to force our way into the midfield pack, we do know it is a statement of our intent to join the group just ahead that we are updating the car at the same rate or even more quickly than our rivals.
“We have the people and resources in place to achieve our goal of scoring a point this year, and we are edging ever closer to a group of cars that is now tantalisingly close. The F1 team can take inspiration from our GP2 team who had a slightly slow start to the season, but have forced their way into fifth in the teams’ championship and have helped to put Giedo van der Garde into third in the drivers’ standings after he became the first GP2 driver to record a podium in both races in Monaco. They are working incredibly hard in a similar fight to their F1 colleagues, taking on established teams in a series that reqards experience, precision and risk-taking, and their recent run of success is just reward for the efforts the whole team is putting in.”
Heikki Kovalainen: “Montreal is a very cool track. It’s a temporary street circuit with a couple of long straights and low downforce settings and that makes the cars pretty tricky in the faster corners and into the braking areas, but it’s a great track to race on. As with everywhere we race you have to find a good balance to get the best lap times, but you need a setup that means you can really attack the kerbs, particularly in the final corner as you head back to the start /finish line. You also need to make sure you have maximum speed down the back straight, so we’ll look closely at the gear ratios we use and balance seventh gear against the speeds we could be doing with DRS and KERS both engaged.
“Apart from being a great race Montreal is also a really good city as well. All the teams like going there as the fans are passionate, the stands are always full on track and the city itself turns into a party town while we’re there. The Canadian people are brilliant and there’s a special atmosphere all over Montreal, which we only get at a few races we go to so it’s one of the weekends everyone’s up for.”
Vitaly Petrov: “I have very good memories of Canada after finishing fifth there last year and I’m really looking forward to getting back to Montreal. Everyone loves racing there – it’s a great city with some really good restaurants, and enough bars to keep everyone who’s not driving happy!
“The track itself is a good challenge from inside the cockpit. It’s very slippery on Friday morning and while the grip does improve over the weekend it’s important to keep the rear tyres in good condition. There a few things to get right for a really quick lap – you need to manage the brake wear and cooling enough to be able to get on the brakes hard every time you need them, you have to have very good traction out of the slower corners and you need to be able to really hit the kerbs hard to save the tenths of a second that add to up to a good time.
“The other thing is the weather. Last year it obviously got so bad we had to stop the race and while that’s not good for the fans it’s much safer for the drivers. Hopefully we won’t have quite so much rain again this year, but if it does we’ll deal with it. I like racing in the wet, it gives us more of a chance to fight a few cars ahead and it’s an even better feeling in the car when you get it right in the wet. Whatever happens it’s always a pleasure to come back to Montreal.”
Mark Smith, Technical Director, Caterham F1 Team: “The Montreal circuit is another fascinating challenge from a technical perspective. As a temporary street-style circuit it is always very green when we start running on Friday but the evolution level is not as high as somewhere like Monaco. The asphalt on the track surface is also very smooth and has very low grip levels so the tyre degradation rate is high throughout the whole weekend. As we have already seen this year, managing tyre wear is the key to both qualifying and the races, so tyre strategy will play an even more crucial role in Montreal than it has all season.
“The other major factor in Canada concerns the brakes. The track has a couple of very long straights with heavy braking zones at the end that lead into tight corners so it is pretty severe in terms of brake wear. We need to make sure we keep optimise the brake cooling every lap and while we do not have a specific brake duct set for Canada, we will be using the larger ones in our range to give us the best chance of managing the brake cooling. “
Tony Fernandes, Team Principal, Caterham F1 Team: “I am still on a high after the race in Monaco. Moving back into tenth place is important but there are 14 more races to come this season and we are taking nothing for granted. However, Heikki’s 13th place and the battling performance he and the whole team put in is another sign that all the hard work we have put in over the last two and a half years is starting to pay off. Vitaly has not had the best luck in the last couple of races but his hunger, enthusiasm, humour and determination are all evident whenever he is with us so he has everything he needs in his locker to succeed with us long-term.
“I am very realistic about what we have achieved so far, and I know that Monaco is a unique circuit that gave us the sort of opportunity we grabbed last Sunday, but I also know that as we continue through this season we keep making small but significant steps forward. During the Monaco race I had some very good news from the factory about a new update we have planned for Silverstone and to see that come in while we were having our best race of the season was another sign that we are doing this in the right way.
“Next it is Canada, a race the whole team looks forward to and possibly another one where we can spring a surprise. Unfortunately I will not be in Montreal but I will be watching every session and I know everyone wants to build on what we achieved at the last race.”
Vitaly Petrov had his career saved by Caterham, after he lost his drive at Renault (this year’s Lotus). Two seasons with Renault had yielded mixed results, and by the end the Russian had not quite proven himself at the top level. Now a race driver with Caterham, he has another chance to show what he can do.
2011 started well for Petrov, with a podium in Australia. The Renault R31 had a strong start to the season and Petrov duly capitalised. As the season progressed and the car fell off the pace, however, there were no particular shows of brilliance from the Russian driver. Perhaps he was a little out of his depth in a team that was still reeling from losing lead driver Robert Kubica to injury. Petrov had two team-mates at Renault last season, neither of whom provided a good basis for comparison. Nick Heidfeld drove for the first half of 2011, but did not deliver the results the team was looking for and was replaced by the relatively inexperienced Bruno Senna.
Caterham provides a different challenge for Petrov. New team-mate Heikki Kovalainen has been with the team since it entered Formula One in 2010. As such, he has had a lot of time to get to know the team and how it works. Kovalainen has been the benchmark in the team, consistently outpacing team-mate Jarno Trulli. In Kovalainen, Petrov now has a strong team-mate. He will certainly be measured against Kovalainen.
The great drivers often show themselves in under-performing cars. Schumacher at Ferrari in 1996, Senna at McLaren in 1993 and Alonso at Ferrari in 2011 are all good examples of how to out-drive the car. In 2011, Petrov had a solid midfield car. In 2012, the same might not be true. While the relative pace of the cars is largely unknown at this stage, it can be safely assumed that Caterham willl not be fighting for podiums at the beginning of the season. So Petrov has a chance to show what he can do in a car that is perhaps not quite as quick as what he is used to.
Petrov has been labeled a “pay-driver” because he brings with him extensive sponsorship. It’s not a tag that any driver wants, and he will be keen to shed it in 2012. Some decent results and, perhaps more importantly, consistency could help him to establish himself firmly as a quality driver. In Melbourne in a week’s time, the challenge begins.