MOVING INTO THE MIDFIELD
WHILST fellow former deubtants, HRT and Marussia have had a very difficult pre-season, Caterham looked well-equipped to break into the midfield in their third season in the sport. Team principal and Malaysian owner of Queens Park Rangers, Tony Fernandes has complete belief in making this operation work and despite more reliability glitches than most in winter testing, there were signs of good pace, especially on a single lap.
The team, put together under the Lotus name made its debut in Bahrain 2010. Currently, Heikki Kovalainen has made it into Q2 on six separate occasions, which considering the might they were up against is a notable achievement. The best finish for the team is 12th at the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix, again achieved by Kovalainen. Having been the best of the new teams in the last two seasons, Lotus finished tenth in the constructors championship so consequently qualify for bigger prize money for their achievements so far. This season, the team has been renamed Caterham, after a very messy legal battle over naming rights which has dragged on for 18 months.
Currently based in Norfolk, the team has plans to move into the ex-Arrows and Super Aguri factory in Leafield during the season and has also made a change in its driver line-up. Despite competing in the first pre-season test, Jarno Trulli was dropped and replaced by Russian Vitaly Petrov. Petrov has two seasons at Renault, where he has achieved flashes of speed, but general inconsistency has cost him in the past. However, he sounds refreshed and hopes that this team can bring the best out of him. Team leader Kovalainen remains for a third year, hoping to end a barren pointless run that stretches back to Singapore 2009. Heikki has produced miracles in the last two seasons, so hopefully he will get more reward in the form of points this season. Expect heavily financially backed Petrov though to give Kovalainen more problems in setting the standard than Trulli ever did.
With former Jordan & Force India technical director Mark Smith and Mike Gascoyne in their design background, the team is well placed to give the established like Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso some major headaches in 2012. The structure is in place, so no more excuses can be thought of. It is time for Caterham to step into the midfield and remain a permanent fixture.
THE second Formula One pre-season test started today in Barcelona and Sebastian Vettel means business. The double world champion, aiming to become only the third driver to win three titles in a row dominated the opening day in Spain, outperforming his other main rivals.
Vettel took the fastest time this afternoon, after countryman Nico Hulkenberg made the early running this morning. Hulkenberg, who lost time in the Jerez test through no fault of his own, looked comfortably at ease in a Force India that continues to set some consistent lap times. His quickest today was a 1.23.440, only 0.2secs behind the formidable Red Bull/Vettel combination. His total of 97 laps was useful mileage too.
Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, continuing McLaren’s quiet start to the winter programme, although their new car looks far better than the predecessor did at this stage last year. We also got a view of the new Mercedes GP W03 today and it is likely that the team will use this test to establish reliability and durability on long runs, rather than outright pace. This makes Michael Schumacher’s effort, sixth fastest and less than a second shy of Vettel’s benchmark of 1.23.265 all the more encouraging.
However, it was a difficult day for both Caterham F1 and Lotus Renault. Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen stopped out on track with a suspected track rod failure. Kovalainen was only in his ninth lap of the day, but further checks seemed to hint that it wasn’t a day-ending problem and the Finn managed another half an hour of running at the end of the day. Vitaly Petrov will make his debut in the car tomorrow. Meanwhile, Lotus packed up at lunchtime after Romain Grosjean did just seven laps, and complained of chassis problems. The team are flying back the car to factory headquarters as a precuationary measure tonight and also aim to run with Grosjean again tomorrow. However, this major headache could have a knockback on their entire week programme at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Traditionally, the first F1 pre-season test is used for basic running, with the second one showing some form tips for the early season flyaways. Although there is still three days of running left in Barcelona, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have sent out a decisive warning to the rest; “Catch us if you can!”
BARCELONA DAY 1 TESTING TIMES – THE TOP EIGHT
1. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.265 – 79 laps
2. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.23.440 – 97 laps
3. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.23.590 – 114 laps
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.618 – 76 laps
5. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.24.100 – 75 laps
6. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.24.150 – 51 laps
7. Sergio Perez (Sauber Ferrari) 1.24.216 – 66 laps
8. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.25.711 – 97 laps