Caterham are struggling, this is little question of that as their “new team” rival Marussia is beating them in the first three races of 2013. This is not how Caterham F1 had planned their performance for the start of the season. Armed with Renault engines, KERS and DRS, Caterham seemed to be the team to leave behind the mantra of “new team” and bridge the mid-field gap to score points on merit. This hasn’t happened and this year it looks as if it may not.
Caterham hired a rookie to team with Charles Pic, a former Marussia driver from 2012, to lead the charge in 2013 and yet neither driver had any time in the 2012 car as to asses if this year had brought any progress in their design. It was a clean slate and one that proved to be difficult to manage. The rookie, Giedo van der Garde, was hired to replace veteran Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen in favor of the young Dutchman’s cash as a paying driver. Now they’ve reconsidered the void created by Kovalainen’s absence and brought the Finn back as a reserve driver to help with their development of the CT03 chassis.
Heikki took the reigns in Friday’s free practice session in Bahrain today and immediately had feedback based on last year’s car which has to give the team some more insight in where to focus. Kovalainen told the press:
“I think it’s quite different to last year’s,” Heikki said. “Fundamentally it’s the same, obviously tyres and set-up has changed. It’s quite a different feeling. If I was racing, I would start looking to make changes straight away to get it more how I think it should be.
“It’s more unbalanced than I experienced last year. It’s more difficult to nail a good lap. I think in qualifying, when the tyres are fresh, the car is a bit more average. But to a certain extent it’s not a surprise because of the way the car has been modified.
“In terms of the differences, there’s a direction. But with the tyres that we have now, I’m not convinced it’s the right way to go. Maybe we should reconsider the set-up direction.”
The inevitable question for Caterham, and Marussia alike, is centered on the idea of having two rookies instead of a veteran at the team who can develop cars. It hasn’t seemed to bite Marussia but then they clearly have a better balanced car out of the box and beating Caterham is the only realistic measuring stick they have. As they are beating Caterham, things seem fine but in order to progress, do they have enough experience on the team from a driver standpoint? If Caterham suddenly make gains, via Kovalainen’s input, will Marussia be able to stay ahead of them?
Caterham, in my opinion, made the right move by bringing Heikki back. Whether he can lead the team down teh right development path and whether they have enough cash to execute that development to its fullest remains to be seen.