As is the way with this unpredictable sport, the rumours surrounding Caterham’s decision are continuous, swinging between numerous drivers all competing for a race seat in 2013.
This is a classic case of not enough cars for enough drivers. Seven drivers are still in the frame for the last two remaining seats; in other words if you thought the races were over until March you can think again, it’s just as competitive as always.
To many the race for a Caterham seat may seem surprising; they have only occasionally made it into the second qualifying session and a shot at points has thus far seemed unrealistic Instead the competition proves that drivers, above everything else, just want the opportunity to compete – the money and World Championships acting as a mere side thought in this particular scenario.
So who is in the frame? The drivers vying for a spot at Caterham all differ in experience, funding and age. Only one driver, Giedo Van Der Garde, would join the team as a rookie. In the Dutchman’s case, his lack of experience could cost him a seat despite funding and a good showing in Friday’s Practice Sessions. Charles Pic, the youngster in the team, has experienced a full season alongside the ever loyal Timo Glock at Marussia and brings sponsorship with him. This week, numerous sources have confirmed to me that Van Der Garde’s chances are dwindling and quite frankly on this basis, I’m not surprised.
Therefore it seems likely that Caterham are aiming to put an experienced driver alongside Pic. Cue talk about the ‘Nice Man’, Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen. He has the connections to the team that could prove crucial and unlike the other contenders has obtained a race win, joining a prestigious list. Even that may not be enough to secure his future. The experienced racer wants to be paid millions for the pleasure and brings no funding to the car. Unfortunately Caterham cannot equal the pay he saw during his time at McLaren. As sad as it is to say, Kovalainen’s days seem to be numbered.
Now the attention falls to Vitaly Petrov, Kovalainen’s team mate in 2012. Petrov will bring some money to the team and played a crucial part in Caterham obtaining 10th place in the Constructor’s Championship ahead of Marussia with an impressive performance at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Thus the team has more funding and a man who can get podiums if attainable; his time at then-named Renault GP could work in the Russian’s favour.
Both Kovalainen and Petrov are expected to reproduce the form they showed during their time at McLaren and Renault respectively; an unrealistic aim from a team who are predominately independent. The line up last year did not produce the sort of performances that they so desperately wanted – unlike in previous years Marussia put up a good fight, not quite enough to secure that all important funding.
Two new drivers at the team may then be the answer. One more experienced and one a relative newcomer. That’s the same approach that numerous teams, including Marussia, Sauber, Lotus and Williams are taking. The all knowing Eddie Jordan, who correctly predicted Hamilton’s move to Mercedes has linked Bruno Senna to the race seat ever since he was replaced by Valterri Bottas at Williams. The rumour disappeared as quickly as it came but emerged again with vengeance this week. Senna, like Petrov, has race experience certainly enough to help Pic who would be considered the team’s main focus for 2013. Only the promise of a competitive car will be enough to entice the Brazilian; his time at HRT forced him to the back of the grid. I can promise you, none of the 22 drivers who do earn a seat will want to sit at the back! One area not in Senna’s favour is his performance in 2012, numerous poor qualifying sessions put him on the back foot. It was former team mate Pastor Maldonado who secured an historic win for Williams not his Brazilian counterpart.
If I was Caterham I would hire Petrov. A young talent with experience and a podium under his belt. An element of driver continuity may aid a team who need to make drastic improvements to ensure their future in the sport. The Russian may not bring with him the funding of other drivers on the grid but his racing has, at times, done all the talking for him. It was Petrov who seemed to prevent Fernando Alonso from winning the 2010 World Champion and secured that crucial 10th place for the team in 2012. He may not be a champion in the making but his loyalty and flashes of brilliance may just be enough.
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