Caterham’s driver line-up has been completed after the team announced on Friday that Giedo van der Garde will partner Charles Pic in 2013. Van der Garde was the team’s test driver in 2012 while he raced in GP2, and has now been promoted into a full-time F1 race seat.
The choice of drivers for 2013 shows a dramatic change in strategy for the Caterham team. In 2012, the extremely experienced Finn Heikki Kovalainen led the team and was partnered by Russian Vitaly Petrov, who had two seasons under his belt before arriving at Caterham. For 2013, Pic is the senior driver, but he only driven in F1 for a single season at Marussia, and Van der Garde is a rookie.
The reasons for the change in driver selection policy are clear – the team wants to move forward technically, and to do that it needs more money. Kovalainen was paid a salary last year, while Petrov brought sponsorship to the team. This year, both drivers bring funding to the team. Nonetheless, it is clear that both Pic and Van der Garde are capable behind the wheel. Pic had an impressive debut season, challenging his experienced Marussia team-mate Timo Glock throughout 2012. Van der Garde scored two wins and six podiums on the way to sixth in the 2012 GP2 championship.
Team principal Cyril Abiteboul said of the appointment, “This is the next natural step for Giedo with our team. We continue to grow as a team and we are committed to giving young talent across the motorsport industry the chance to grow with us and this is Giedo’s opportunity to show he deserves his place at the very highest level of global motorsport. He and Charles [Pic] have been team-mates before so he is an excellent choice to partner Charles in what is going to be another very interesting season, and we are all looking forward to seeing Giedo continue to progress as he takes on the ultimate challenge of F1.”
Giedo van der Garde expressed his eagerness to get started in 2013: “I know I am ready to take the step up to F1 and all the work I have done throughout my career, and particularly in the last year with this team, has brought me to my ultimate goal. Throughout 2012 I was able to fully integrate myself into the team, both through the FP1 sessions I ran at a number of tracks that were then new to me, and as Reserve Driver, fully embedded with the team throughout the season.
“Now I can continue to learn at the highest level of motorsport and show that I am ready for F1. I cannot wait to start work.”
The new Caterham F1 car – the CT03 – will be launched at the track in Jerez, Spain on Tuesday 5 February before hitting the track for the start of testing.
“The Marussia F1 Team and its race driver Timo Glock have, by mutual consent, agreed to part company with immediate effect”, the team reported on its website this morning. The press release referred to “tough economic conditions” as the reason for Glock’s departure, which of course means that they could no longer afford to pay him and are looking instead for a pay driver.
Glock had been with the team since its inception in advance of the 2010 season, and spent three seasons as the team’s senior driver. Results unfortunately were difficult to come by in such a new team, and Glock’s best finish at Marussia was 12th in the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix.
Glock has not yet announced what his next career step will be, but it is widely speculated to be in DTM, the German touring car series. Glock has ties to BMW from his F1 days, having been BMW Sauber’s test driver in 2007. It could be that he has secured a DTM drive with BMW.
For Marussia, there is now the challenge of finding another driver on fairly short notice. Not that there is a shortage of available F1 drivers. Bruno Senna has not yet found a drive after losing his seat at Williams. Narain Karthikeyan is still looking for a new job after HRT went into liquidation at the end of 2012. And Vitaly Petrov could be available if he does not succeed in keeping his place at Caterham. Considering their financial difficulties, Marussia will likely be inclined to select their new driver based on the amount of funding he can provide.
Marussia are due to begin pre-season testing in just 15 days, but have not yet announced when they will launch their 2013 car. With the departure of Glock for financial reasons, it will not be long before questions start being asked about the future of the team, and whether or not they will race in 2013 at all.
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.
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.