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Best of the beginners - Caterham's mid-season report 17 Aug 2012

Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Caterham CT01.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 11 May 2012 Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Caterham on the drivers parade.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 29 July 2012 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Caterham CT01.
Formula One Testing, Mugello, Italy, Day Three, 3 May 2012 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Caterham F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, 13 May 2012 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Caterham CT01.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, 12 May 2012 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Caterham CT01.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 16 March 2012

It might seem unfair to class Caterham, now in their third F1 season, as beginners. But when they share a grid with names like Ferrari, McLaren and Williams, they - plus Marussia and HRT - are most definitely novices. One thing not in doubt is that Caterham have so far been the most successful of the 2010 newcomers. Midway through 2012 and tenth in the standings for a third successive year looks eminently achievable, but the team are frustrated they haven’t yet scored that elusive first point or really taken the fight to the midfield…

Season in numbers
Constructors’ standings:
10th, 0 points
Drivers’ standings: Heikki Kovalainen (19th, 0 points), Vitaly Petrov (20th, 0 points)
Highest 2012 qualifying: 16th (Kovalainen, Bahrain and Europe)
Highest 2012 finish: 13th (Kovalainen, Monaco and Petrov, Europe)

Having started the year with the express aim of joining the midfield and scoring points, the CT01 - the team’s first KERS-equipped car - has failed to deliver, at least in that respect. Although qualifying pace has gradually improved, with Kovalainen even getting through to Q2 in Europe on merit, the significant step forward the team had hoped for hasn’t yet materialized, especially in races. Most recently in Hungary, Kovalainen described his qualifying lap as ‘perfect’ but was disappointed to find he was still almost a second adrift of the midfield competition. A major upgrade introduced for Silverstone was somewhat stymied by the poor weather which plagued the last three rounds, but Caterham are confident that with a bit more dry running they will be able to extract its full potential. Another major update is planned for Singapore.

Caterham may have been rechristened for 2012 (from Team Lotus), but there have been other significant changes too. With Mike Gascoyne promoted to wider technical duties within the Caterham Group, designer Mark Smith has stepped up to the role of technical director. Over the summer break there is also a factory move, with the team upping sticks from Hingham and relocating to the former Super Aguri and Arrows site in Leafield. Caterham hope the move from the wilds of Norfolk will attract more engineering talent and energetic team principal Tony Fernandes has instructed Smith to take charge of an ‘aggressive employment plan’. Far from kneejerk reactions, all these changes have been sanctioned with greater long-term stability in mind.

After struggling at McLaren, Kovalainen has flourished at Caterham. He may not have won a point in the 48 times he’s raced for the team, but he’s impressed enough to reportedly tempt both Ferrari and Sauber to consider him as an option for next season when his contract expires. Caterham may have their work cut out if they are to convince him to stay. Team mate Petrov, who moved from Renault last season, has been equally punchy despite the deficiencies of his car.

What they say: “I will take some positives out of the first half of the season, but the team now needs to use the break to recharge and then come back fighting. We understand that we have much more work to do in order to progress as quickly as we would like.” Riad Asmat, Caterham CEO

What we say: Caterham have an excellent team and a good driver line-up. They just need the car to come good and match that potential and they will be on their way. Toro Rosso better watch their backs.

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