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Caterham F1 boss Tony Fernandes has offered a strong warning to his team that this is the last chance—they either make significant progress in 2014 or he’ll pack it all up and go home to make read cars. AUTOSPORT has the call:

“My message to the 250 people here [at the factory] is we have to go for it this year,” Fernandes said.

“This is it – the final chance.

“We’ve given you the best infrastructure, the best potential drivers, but it is now down to all of you to go and do it.”

As we discussed on Monday’s Podcast, wouldn’t this make a better investment for an aspiring American Formula 1 team to enter the series with? Why re-create the wheel when the infrastructure is already there? Perhaps Gene Haas could just as easily avoid the $40 million fee to join the series and simply purchase Marussia or Caterham F1?

Infrastructure and location are key elements and Caterham F1 is strategically located in the UK giving any would-be suitor a real chance at success. How you measure that success is certainly up to you but for Fernandes, it isn’t at the back:

“If we’re at the back I don’t think I’m going to carry on,” Fernandes explained.

“Nothing is set in stone, but after five years with no points there is a limit to one’s patience, money, motivation, etc. So it’s an important year.

“I need to feel like we’re going somewhere. If I feel we can compete, then great, but if we’re not competing then we have to seriously examine ourselves and ask ‘does this make sense?’

“If we’re not competing, two seconds behind everybody else, then we haven’t made any progress.”

If you consider that Lotus F1 has a budget for another year, Caterham F1 has just signaled its intentions and also factor in Marussia’s financial struggles along with Sauber, you’re looking at a potential for two or three teams that could leave F1 in 2015 unless things change.

What will change? One can’t imagine CVC Capital making drastic changes to the payout structure to keep teams flush and Formula 1 boss Bernie Eccelstone has been critical of how teams spend their money. Ultimately the “show” as they like to call it, is growing stale and that’s even after they’ve heaped loads of “spice” on top of the damn thing like DRS, ERS, HD tires and now, double points. Fernandes said:

“The sport has to examine itself,” he said. “I’m in a fantastic position to see two sports – football and F1.

“Every week I go to a game nervous as hell, whether we’re playing Yeovil, Doncaster or Leicester, because football is unpredictable.

“It’s no secret people are paying more money to watch football, TV rights are growing, global audiences are growing, so what are they doing right that we’re not doing right in F1?

“We spend all our time looking at how long a piece of pipe is, or how good KERS is etc, but the racing stays the same, with the same three or four teams there winning. There is no underdog who comes in.”

He’s not alone in the lament. Many F1 fans are growing weary of the constructs but the restlessness of the F1 fan masses has to be taken with some perspective as the instant gratification crowd seems to criticize the sport for being predictable as they salivate over NASCAR’s 7th title for Jimmy Johnson or Sebastien Loeb’s 7th title or Audi’s domination of Le Mans and the WEC. One of the few racing series that’s producing different winners is Indycar and it hasn’t been lost on me that the series has enjoyed a new interest from European fans.

Either way, Formula 1 had better sort itself out or CVC’s big investment will have been milked dry leaving teams to switch to the WEC for real-world competitive racing that may be more appealing to their road car manufacturing because in the end, the only people that can afford to stay in F1 are manufacturers—we’ve ran the privateers out of the business…except for that really big privateer who is dominating the series right now with energy drinks to spare.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • gsprings

    jimmy johnson won the championship, but he did’nt steamroll the field the way vettel did,jimmy johnson could have lost the championship in the last race,not so for vettel,we did have guys in nascar who won races that would have been the equivilant of a force india,sauber,williams etc driver winning a race in f1 this past season, we just don’t get that in f1 these days,a few teams in f1, you know the winner will be from these few teams in f1,but hey, thats f1 i guess, as a fan i am used to it, would be shocked if we got to the point where the 10th best team in f1 had a chance to win in good conditions, that won’t happen, even with the new regs i assume, it still will be the boys with the fat wallets doing tall the winning i assume,they will sort out these new reg cars quicker because they have the means

  • Rapierman

    I would consider a luxury tax on the big spending teams to make them pay for the smaller ones and keep them in the system. It’s the little people that keeps things running.

    • Michael in Seattle

      You know, you’ve mentioned this a few times; I think you are on to something, here. Hello, Todd, et al: stoke this furnace, please. Even I am getting bored w/ F1 – ow, punch me , please.

  • dude

    Not sure if his employees will take that as a motivation or an alert to abandon ship.

    • niyoko

      I was thinking the same. I just saw a comment from Kobayashi’s interview about joining the team, where he said he thought the team had the hunger and infrastructure to be competitive for 2014 and beyond. It was probably PR talk, but we all hope he is right and Caterham does not go by the wayside.

  • gsprings

    Wow, the whole team is in the hot seat

  • Jack Flash (Aust)

    Tony Fernandes has always struck me as a proper racing fan, not just another Business Man in F1 getting his narcissistic kicks. I don’t think this ultimatum put to his team is so much a frustration at lack of podiums or big points, more so a justified frustration at the lack of progress of Caterham to join the back of the midfield, and then go from there. I really expected Caterham to have bridged the gap to STR and Williams and possibly Sauber by now. They just seem to be stuck in the “also-ran” zone.

    2014 is a big chance year for Caterham, just like any team on the lower half of the WCC pecking order. Big regulation changes bring about possible radical solutions that a smaller team may stumble into, and with the scourge of reliability being such a presence in the first year of a big regulation change including new engines (errrrrr… power units), a team who builds a modestly performing base car design with ‘reliability’ right from the get-go in 2014 may jag a few very unexpected high point results. I not suggesting wins, more like 10th-7th or perhaps even 6th, 5th, or even 4th type results. Watch the Australian GP in March closely, along with all the few GP. Some underdog surprises are in store for us – I hope. JF

  • Tom Firth

    I wish I could be more sympathy and do understand that the team is doing what it can, but F1 is expensive and that’s a fact. The budget cap concept in 2010 was never going to work, Fans could see that it wasn’t realistic so I don’t understand how if the fans could see that, the new teams that entered with accountants etc in tow couldn’t.

    The WEC can offer competitive places for Privateer teams granted but even then, It’s mostly P2 teams for a privateer due to the sheer cost of running a factory LMP1 so your still not exactly in the spotlight compared to the manufacturers. Also a stigma attached to sportscar racing, in my opinion wrongly so, but like With Kobayashi for example, drivers will do anything to be part of F1, I think teams will too, even if another series perhaps makes greater financial sense.

    I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that his comments have come very close to the FIA summit either.

    Todd, I agree that people are complaining about F1 becoming predictable but motorsport as a whole is fairly predictable throughout history whatever form of motorsport it happens to be as you know. Whether that’s Penske / Ganassi (Indycar) , Team Dynamics/Triple Eight (BTCC) , Mclaren / Ferrari / AN Other – Red Bull right now (F1) or Roush / Joe Gibbs / Hendricks. (NASCAR). The majority of the titles in the last two decades of their respective series have being won by one of these teams. Indycar is a little more complicated with the split but even so that’s all predictable right ?

    Other teams do claim titles and do win races on occasion and obviously some of the “Predictable” teams have bad seasons and bad races, Mclaren for example this season. Although when one of these teams doesn’t win it makes it more of an anomaly season rather than an unpredictable one I think.

    Is that really a problem, I don’t think it is, these teams are the strongest teams within their respective championships and deliver accordingly those results or at least within the top 3-4 teams in a given season. Sure 2013 wasn’t an Instant classic season in F1 and never will be seen that way from a title chase point of view but some seasons are like that. Perhaps I don’t understand the concept of instant gratification.

    As for the popularity of Indycar in the UK. I have to agree a few more people are watching it over here now. Part of this is due to the channel it’s aired on becoming more easily accessible and parts of it is to do with access to information becoming easier but it’s still incredibly niche in the UK despite having successful British drivers and champions in Indycar. We had CART races in the UK previously, In fact Rockingham was built with the attraction of CART so a medium sized fanbase has existed for American Open-Wheel in the UK for some time. With the collapse of CART obviously the races in Europe disappeared and that didn’t help sustain the level of fanbase.

    Indycar on TV has around the same levels of viewing figures as most championships besides F1, MotoGP and BTCC in the UK which are miles out in front.

    As a British Indycar fan It is nice that people are paying abit more attention to Indycar granted but it will never be hugely popular here.

    Apologies for rambling on.

  • strF1

    Sorry tony, these threats won’t work to motivate a team.

    You want to win, or get points in F1 you need 2 things.

    1: Money, and lots of it. (See red bull budget)
    2: experiance in building a good car (see red bull staff, AKA Adrian newey)

    While the other top teams don’t have newey they do have money.
    You might scrape a point or two on the odd weekend but your not going to fight for a title with crap pay drivers and a car built on a low budget. Not in F1 anyway.

    So if you feel like you say you do pick up your Teddy’s and grab your ball and go put your money into football if that’s what you want.

    If not put some more cash up build a good team and work at the thing called F1.
    Shock horror it didn’t happen in 5 years, go talk to Toyota see how much they spent and didn’t win. Your not even close

  • @_Canuck_

    F1 fans are the most unhappy people on the planet always complaining haha.
    It is amazing they have been around so long with good engines and unable to score perhaps the teams that don’t get any points get some testing days and a little money to fund it.