2012 served as a warning for the then newly-renamed Caterham team that they must improve. After duelling with the Toro Rossos at the European Grand Prix on merit the team failed to capitalise on their form as large upgrade packages failed to translate into the performance gains anticipated.  At the beginning of the 2012 season Caterham Group co-Chairman Tony Fernandes stated that he would step away from Formula One if the team failed to make any further inroads to the midfield, surely enough the Malaysian entrepreneur stepped down as Team Principal in the closing stages of the season to concentrate on Caterham Group’s alliance with Renault’s Alpine project, with the team undergoing an internal restructure over the winter break.

In Fernandes’ place as Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul having joined the outfit from their engine suppliers Renault. On the drivers front it’s all change as well as Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov have been dropped in favour of reserve driver Giedo Van der Garde and Charles Pic, having made the move across from the team’s main rival Marussia. As with Marussia’s driver choice, Caterham’s new line-up brings significant sponsorship money from Van der Garde’s McGregor backing and Pic’s family’s trucking business, however Pic comes with a season’s experience and was one of the unnoticed stars of the 2012, proving more than a match for his then team-mate Timo Glock on numerous occasions.

Although Van der Garde has been on the fringes of a Formula One drive for some time, having first driven for Spyker at an in-season test at Silverstone in 2007 and being in contention for a Virgin seat in 2011 only to lose out to Jerome D’Ambrosio, the Dutchman hasn’t had a glittering junior career CV in comparison to others. For this season his objective will be surely to try and beat his more experienced and established team-mate.

Last season Caterham were the first team to launch their car, and infamously the first to bear the ugly and much-disliked ‘stepped nose’ and looked like a duck. The new CT03 is one of the few cars to have not had the ‘vanity panel’ applied and quite frankly it looks like an uglier duckling, even worse the car seems to also handle like one thus far.

On first appearances the car hardly looks any different from its predecessor, aside from the nice shade of green they have opted for, and even after the first day of testing in Jerez the team were advised that their exhausts were illegal, due to a flow conditioner having been positioned in the CT03′s exhaust channel, an area in which the technical regulations state no bodywork is permitted. Naturally the team have claimed that they think it is legal, and will very likely continue to run with the ‘illegal’ exhaust throughout testing as this is permitted, until the first race weekend of the season.

Out on the track the car appears to be handling very badly so far with even the team itself conceding that the CT03 suffers from rear instability. It is still early days, it is testing afterall, however the team could find itself on the back-foot with it’s policy to only run an updated 2012 car, with a view to being able to focus more on 2014 and possibly introduce a B-spec car later this season, with HRT gone and Marussia making solid progression there is a very real danger that the Leafield-based outfit could well find themselves at the very back, struggling to keep up. Although Abiteboul claims the team’s goal is to score points this season they will surely need more than the luck they got at the final race of last season, their luck could surely be running out already.

References:

‘Lotus’ James Allison Claims Caterham are Using an Illegal Exhaust Setup’, F1 Weekends (??/02/2013, accessed: 22/02/2013),
http://f1weekends.com/post/42443482341/lotus-james-allison-claims-caterham-are-using-an
‘Caterham plan to evolve car throughout season’, James Allen (05/02/2013, accessed: 22/02/2013),
http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2013/02/caterham-plan-to-evolve-car-throughout-season/

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