Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

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Ryan Gault

Ryan is one of those people who follow every sport going, from football to speedway and golf to ice hockey. He has followed Formula 1 for as long as he can remember, which just so happens to be the 2001 US Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen's last ever win. Since then he has followed the tribulations of the greatest Swiss team since he heard about Grasshoppers Zürich, Sauber. Currently studying Journalism at the University of Huddersfield, while also attempting to write about TV and Eurovision.

Survival of the fastest // Keeping afloat through F1 2013 is the only path to success in 2014

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2014 is only ten months away, but for Caterham and Marussia it must seem like a lifetime. Over the winter both teams were forced to abandon their initial plans set out in their inaugural season. More than anything, 2013 is about survival.

HRT found themselves the latest team in the constructors graveyard, the sheer unfeasibility of running a team in Spain alongside a constant lack of money caused their untimely demise. No matter the pay drivers they used, from Narain Karthikeyan to Ma Qing Hua, no one could help the team in the long term. And this must worry Caterham and Marussia after they abandoned their experienced drivers in favour of ones who can guarantee their survival.

Keep the change

In fact Marussia have already confirmed four different drivers before the action has got underway. Max Chilton and Timo Glock were announced at the end of last season, though Glock mutually left before the first Jerez test. Marussia made no doubts that they needed drivers that could get them money. And when Luiz Razia was strangely absent from the second test, before it was revealed his sponsors weren’t paying up, it was only a matter of time before he was replaced by a reliable financer in Jules Bianchi.

The garage next door has had much less of a tumultuous time, although Caterham are equally in a position that they can’t afford to be careful. They’ve got a new manager in Cyril Abiteboul, and new, wealthy, drivers in Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde. They have even changed the green so minty it tastes like a Polo.

It’s some credit that Marussia have lasted this long whilst never getting any of the FIA’s prize money. Their small annual budget undoubtedly helping, Caterham are getting all the money instead of them. 10th place in the three years to date has allowed them $40.8 million, and a further $68.25 million for consistent top 10 finishes ($34.125 million given to all teams who have finished in the top ten in two of the previous three seasons)[1]. In addition, Vitaly Petrov has brought in sponsors from the state company Russian Helicopters and chemicals firm SIBUR for his time at Caterham, although Kovalainen’s salary may detract from this somewhat (reportedly earning $5 million per year, and also worth stressing Jarno Trulli was earning a similar amount in his two seasons at the team)[2].

Notably, Marussia still received some money for competing in their previous three seasons ($10 million in a sort of reward for just turning up), yet on the large scale they have earned roughly $70 million less from the FIA. Adding in the pay for Timo Glock ($3.7 million) and a fairly insufficient amount coming in from pay drivers Lucas di Grassi and Jérôme D’Ambrosio (Charles Pic clearly bringing in enough money and possibly enough talent for Caterham to snap him up).

This limits potential for the upcoming season, with costs also needed to focus on the massive overhaul of regulations coming in place for the 2014 season, and limits the potential on upgrades they can make on the car. It wouldn’t be surprising if the two teams are further away from the rest of the pack than ever before.

In the red corner

Bianchi makes a pitstop
Credit: Marussia F1 Team

There are few positives for the upcoming season for either team, Marussia has escaped from the hellish no man lands where only the optimistic dared tread and produced their first wind tunnel-created car, and are even pushing the boat out by adding KERS as well. Adding the experience, if not tainted reputation, of Pat Symonds, for once, they might have created a car that is capable of being a match to the Caterham.

With the hiring of Jules Bianchi, a man who was being seriously looked at by Force India before being pushed over the cliff when they chose to save Adrian Sutil’s Formula 1 career, they have a competent and promising young driver.

The Frenchman obviously arrives with some backing (potentially Ferrari, and with the team not wanting to use Cosworth from next season, well, maybe I’m just taking a stab in the air), but also comes with a fair bit of top level experience in the junior championships - two years in GP2 and last year coming second in Formula Renault 3.5. His career has so far shown solid progression, and he hasn’t finished below 3rd in a Championship since the start of 2010 (which also includes a year in GP2 Asia).

Max Chilton has a bigger tag stuck on his race suit saying pay driver, with his father certainly lending him a helping hand through the junior categories, and it is hard to see him making much of an impact, especially against the more talented Bianchi.

In the green corner

Next door Caterham have a similar situation. Charles Pic is the only one of the four drivers to have Formula 1 race experience and he didn’t disappoint in his debut year. Coming in with more money than D’Ambrosio, he finished ahead of the more experienced Timo Glock on seven occasions, and was involved in the battle for 11th in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Granted it seemed no more than two small kids fighting over whose dad was better rather than the Battle of Hastings, but as previously mentioned it has massive repercussions, and the slips and spills had wide ranging consequences. The conspiracy theorists would say that Pic let Petrov past to appease his new bosses, although the lack of professionalism in that would be outstanding.

But then there is the great enigma of Giedo van der Garde. Lingering around the junior formulae like a hawk stalking its prey, van der Garde has failed to really ever produce the goods. One championship win back in 2008 (Formula Renault 3.5), and four unspectacular seasons in GP2 (five wins in 82 races), leave the Dutchman in a position of really not being all that. His previous attempts at joining Formula 1 have been unfortunate, the fiasco surrounding the Super Aguri and Spyker test driver role during the 2007 season may have put some teams off signing him, while he was overlooked by Virgin Racing in favour of D’Ambrosio in 2011. But like a hawk he took his opportunity, and with backing from McGregor and Beelen, he has managed to take Kovalainen’s seat.

Charles Pic at the wheel
Credit: Malcolm Griffiths/LAT Photographic

It’s also worth taking a look at the test drivers for Caterham, notably Ma Qing Hua, who brought Roca, KH7, Tag Heuer and Weibo to HRT, and is likely to bring the same to his new team. And Alexander Rossi will be able to do the traditional tapping in to the American market.

One nice thing this season is the refreshing realism at Caterham. In previous seasons we have been subjected to Tony Fernandes shouting from the rooftop that his team will be race winners, podium getters and point takers by this point in their existence. In truth every expectation has fell flat on the ground, covering them with mud and making them look fairly stupid. Cybil Abiteboul, the new Caterham boss, has finally started to add some realism to the whole situation.

Scoring a point on merit is not something that is going to happen this year, but scoring a point when something strange is happening is not something that can be ruled out.

- Cyril Abiteboul, Team Principal, Caterham

Generally Minardi didn’t score points on merit, and tended to only get points in the attrition-strewn races in the harder world where there were only six points paying positions. There is no shame in scoring points when everyone ahead of you is breaking down and sliding into the wall, you have to take the most of your opportunities. In the Battle of Brazil, it only needed one car ahead to slide off the track and Vitaly Petrov would have scored a point. A point would mean everything to both teams, who have worked hard to stay competitive on a limited budget.

However it isn’t as easy as the days Minardi were around, the cars ahead are much more reliable, to the extent that it wouldn’t be surprising if all 22 cars finished a race. Cybil Abiteboul may have a glimmer of optimism in his head, though it could just be to lift the morale of the troops on what is going to be a long and testing season.

There are a number of big stories surrounding Formula 1 this year, but at the back of the grid only one thing matters. The quality of the two teams seem to be generally similar for the first time, the overall quality of the drivers is roughly the same, it’s the closest Caterham and Marussia have ever been. And it’s going to take the small amount of fortune that Cybil Abiteboul is talking about, it doesn’t have to be about points this season, it’s about survival and getting that one position better than the other team. At the end of the season, the team that finishes 10th might just have a chance to see 2014, the team that finishes 11th could well find themselves in the ever growing Formula 1 cemetery of failure.