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Abiteboul: Caterham confident of closing on midfield 14 Jun 2013

Cyril Abiteboul (FRA) Caterham CEO.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 17 March 2013 Charles Pic (FRA) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race Day, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 9 June 2013 Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 23 May 2013 Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 23 May 2013 Tony Fernandes (MAL) Caterham Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 21 September 2012 Charles Pic (FRA) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 22 March 2013 (L to R): Riad Asmat (MAL) Caterham Chief Executive Officer, Mark Smith (GBR) Caterham Technical Director and Tony Fernandes (MAL) Caterham Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Si Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham CT03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 15 March 2013 Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham CT03 and Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia F1 Team MR02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 24 March 2013 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Caterham F1 third driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 25 May 2013 Charles Pic (FRA) Caterham and Giedo van der Garde (NDL) Caterham.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Cyril Abiteboul (FRA) Caterham CEO.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 21 April 2013

Fans had hoped 2013 would be the breakthrough year for Caterham, when they finally escaped the back of the grid and took the fight firmly to the midfield. Instead, they are last in the standings, having been beaten by traditional rivals Marussia in all but two of the season’s seven races to date. Caterham insist that’s not a truly representative picture, as team principal Cyril Abiteboul explains in an exclusive interview…

Q: Cyril, so far it seems to be a quite thorny season for Caterham. Can you explain where the glitches are right now?
Cyril Abiteboul:
It’s fair to say our last race in Canada was disappointing, but looking at the season overall we’re probably about where we thought we would be. But that does not mean that we are where we want to be! We started the season with a hybrid 2012/2013 car which we’d always planned to use for the first four races. We were able to bring forward some of the 2013 package to Bahrain and saw an immediate improvement there, and then again another step forward in Spain when both cars had additional 2013 parts. Unfortunately, as Giedo (van der Garde) was racing right in the midfield, Spain also saw our first DNF for 15 races and that continued to Monaco where we had the positive experience of Q2 for the first time in 2013, but then balanced that with a first lap nose change for Giedo and a DNF for Charles (Pic). Had neither of those happened, even if it is impossible to predict where we would have finished, I think we’d be looking at Canada as a glitch, not the continuation of a run of relatively poor form. The simple truth is 2013 was always going to be a tough season, but we are confident we can deliver what we have wanted since the start of the year, which is a clear positive trend towards reducing the gap to the midfield.

Q: You have been a team principal now for six months. What has been the best part so far - and what have you found frustrating? Is it the glamorous job that many outsiders think it is?
CA:
A great moment was seeing Giedo go into Q2 in Monaco. That was the sign of a rookie driver growing in confidence in tricky conditions and pushing himself and the team to achieve something really positive. The whole team worked well that day and it was satisfying to see good strategy, driving, pit stops and the whole car package coming together to put us right in the action in the premier event of the season. That was the glamour moment, doing that in Monaco, but honestly that’s about it for glamour! The real focus of my first six months has been about improving the efficiency of our team across all operational areas, building a plan, and more importantly ensuring its execution on a daily basis. This is what will give us the chance to have more days like Saturday in Monaco in the future, and that’s what will give me the personal sense of satisfaction we all need in our work to keep pushing on.

Q: Caterham Group Co-Chairman Tony Fernandes very openly admitted that he probably stayed too long at the helm of the team. With all due respect for what he’s achieved so far, what would you have done differently?
CA:
Tony is incredibly honest, and that’s one of his greatest strengths. He tells it like it is, both to the people who work with him and to the media and his followers on Twitter. He doesn’t hold back and I think that’s refreshing - he’s open, honest and wears his heart on his sleeve, which are some of the reasons he’s such a powerful character. And, even with all his commitments around the world, we would all, the whole team and me, benefit from even more of his time. The truth is that through Tony and (his fellow Co-Chairman) Kamarudin (Meranun) we have Leafield, a partnership with Renault, a portfolio of commercial partners that are the envy of the pit lane and a talented, dedicated workforce, and all of that is the result of their vision, of their commitment. It’s up to us to use all of that to propel ourselves forwards but none of this would be possible without what Tony or Kamarudin have done so I wouldn’t change anything about where we’ve come from.

Q: Mark Smith is a very experienced technical chief, so why isn’t it possible for him to turn the car around? Or is the effort too big and you will start early focussing on 2014?
CA:
It’s unfair to single out one person and say it’s down to him or her to turn the car around. In comparison to the teams ahead, Mark leads a relatively small and young but talented design office team who are working incredibly hard to help us make progress. Our infrastructure and our resources do not allow us to change some of the fundamental and structural characteristics of a chassis that was designed in 2011, raced in 2012 and carried over in 2013, but, as we saw in Bahrain, Spain and Monaco, by focusing on key performance differentiators of the car - the aero package - there are clear signs of progress this year. This pragmatic strategy is allowing us to balance the resources we have on the work we can do to keep improving 2013 against the 2014 project, but we have a plan and we’re confident it will pay dividends in the long run. We compete in a championship that lasts nearly 10 months and we’ll judge ourselves at the end of the season, not seven races in.

Q: Keeping P10 in the constructors’ championship is very likely your main goal for the year. You kept the suspense high in 2012 by achieving that position only at the very last race - are you in for another nerve-wracking finish this season?
CA:
If it achieves the same result then absolutely! More seriously, Marussia have been doing a great job over the past 18 months, and I am sure the battle will be very exciting between our two teams, and maybe also with a couple of the ones ahead.

Q: Two inexperienced drivers are an additional difficulty when trying to push the team forward. Is that the reason Heikki Kovalainen is serving as your third man - for his feedback, a sort of ‘car whisperer’?
CA:
Yes, Heikki was brought back to help us evaluate the hybrid car against the new 2013 package, and to use his experience to corroborate what Charles and Giedo were telling us about the car and, more importantly, comparing it to last year’s car which is obviously known well by all of us. We’ve invested a lot in Heikki since the first days of the team and the opportunity was there to bring him back in to help us this year. With the sort of experience he has we’d have been foolish not to use what he can bring and he definitely helped in the couple of sessions he ran, and in the feedback he gave.

Q: What can you say about your two race drivers so far? Is the curve going upwards? What development can you report?
CA:
Same as with the team, I’d like to evaluate both drivers properly at the right moment, but for now I think both are making progress in parallel. They’re contrasting characters and that’s good in the garage - Charles is more reserved than Giedo but with each race he’s growing in confidence and showing real signs of maturity, particularly with tyre management and racecraft. I’d like to see much more from him in quali - his performance in Bahrain was his best of the year and he absolutely nailed one lap when it counted - but that will come with experience. For Giedo it’s been the tough start to the season he expected, but he too is showing real signs of development, despite having a disappointing last race in Montreal. This is his first full season in F1 and he was very honest when he talked about his early season goals. The first few races were all about learning, taking in everything that a driver has to deal with, not just over a race weekend but throughout a whole season, and then starting to have the confidence to show what he can do once he’d had a few races to develop. In Bahrain he was back on a track he knew and he went well there, then even better in Spain and better still in Monaco. He was one of the stars of qualifying in Monaco and you have to have real confidence and outright speed to be quick there, so hearing him make the call to switch to slicks on a still damp Monaco track was good. It showed he’s finding his place in F1 and while he and the whole team have a long way to go, he’s getting there. But as Montreal showed, there is absolutely no room for loss of focus in F1 and we need to continue working with him on a few areas; blue flag management and tyre management being the key ones right now.

Q: What development curve do you expect the team to follow: after the next six races and at the end of the season?
CA:
I’m not going to make any predictions about where we’ll be after either the next six races or at the end of the year, but we have new parts coming for nearly every race this year so we’re doing what we can to keep fighting and keep learning about ourselves. We have to balance that against the need to ramp up our 2014 work, but we can manage that and I’m sure there will be races that suit our car where we can show more clear progress, and I’m also afraid there will be more races like Canada where we don’t do ourselves justice - whatever happens we must make sure to learn, and improve, like we are doing right now from the difficulties we had in Montreal.

Q: And what about the first point? At which race will it happen?
CA:
It’ll probably happen at the race we least expect it to, but the one we most deserve it to.

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