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GP Week : Issue 154
This season is going to be the year in which Caterham scores its first points. But in case you’ve forgotten, last season was going to be the year in which Team Lotus – the same group of men and women in green and yellow – were going to score their first points. It didn’t happen then, so who’s to say that 2012 will be any different? In fact, it could be worse – Caterham left Barcelona trailing behind Marussia in the constructors’ championship, a team they’ve comfortably bested since both made their Formula One debuts in 2010. On paper, Caterham have what it takes to succeed – an owner with deep pockets, a long list of blue chip sponsors, experienced drivers, and a strong technical team. But the much hoped for results just aren’t happening as quickly as expected. Part of the problem is that the 2012 season is the most competitive in recent memory, with a tightly-packed midfield that can see two-thirds of the grid covered by a single second in qualifying. Then you have the great leap for ward made by the midfield as a whole over the winter. Teams like Sauber and Williams, with whom Caterham could legitimately expect to battle at the end of 2011, are now fighting at the front for wins. Lotus have moved up and are now fighting at the front, while Force India and Toro Rosso are a few vital tenths out of reach. The progress of the grid as a whole disguises the progress that Caterham have themselves made. If you look at their qualifying results in Australia, Malaysia, China, and Spain since the team’s 2010 Formula One debut, there is a marked decline in the gap to pole, with an improvement of more than two seconds at the Circuit de Catalunya. But some of that improvement has come about as a consequence of the FIA’s ban on exhaust blown diffusers, and the loss of pace suffered by the front-runners as a result. With the backmarkers steadily improving, regulation changes are on their side for now. Over the next two or three years, however, as the technological landscape is changed by designers working out how to recoup downforce lost in the EBD ban while teams learn to get the most of 2014’s new engine formula, staying competitive will be an even greater challenge. Caterham technical director Mark Smith (left) is aware of the challenges his team faces in a highly competitive field, but is confident that the Norfolk racers have what it takes to move ahead. This season – once again – the target is to score that vital first point. “We are, absolutely [targeting points this year],” Smith told GPWEEK in Barcelona. “Even if it’s only one point, that is our target – we need to finish this season with a point or two. Everything that we do is geared towards that.” Caterham CTO Mike Gascoyne’s move to a more supervisory role encompassing both road cars and race team means that Smith has become a more visible presence within the team, but little has changed behind the public face. “To be honest, since I joined the team – because I joined in the position of technical director – there haven’t really been any changes,” Smith said. “I’ve been doing the job, I suppose is what I’m saying. “There hasn’t been any need to do any real change in terms of what we’re doing back at base in terms of aero, in terms of designing the car. So that’s all pretty much seamless. The biggest difference is that I now come to the track at every race. Instead of coming to maybe five or six, and perhaps playing more of a background role, I come to every race and I’m on the pit wall. That’s the biggest change for me.” One of the biggest changes for Caterham took place as the team returned to Europe for the summer leg of the season: former McLaren chief aerodynamicist John Iley, who was recruited last November, came to the end of his gardening leave and was allowed to F1 >>> FEATURE 28 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: