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Fully committed - exclusive Q&A with Caterham's Ravetto

26 Sep 2014

The 2014 season has been a tumultuous one for Caterham. They have experienced troubles on track, a sudden takeover, multiple driver changes and the loss of two team principals. So what’s going on at the Leafield-based squad and how do they plan to turn their fortunes around? In a frank and revealing interview, Manfredi Ravetto, the recently-installed team principal, explains all…

Q: Manfredi, can you tell us the story of the Caterham takeover and your involvement in that?

Manfredi Ravetto: May I say that I was not involved when the takeover happened. I just received a phone call on a Friday night from my good old friend Colin Kolles, who is representing the new shareholders, and he said, ‘Deal done - come on board!’

Q: Are you surprised to suddenly find yourself back in F1 racing after your previous spells at Midland/Spyker and HRT?

MR: A little bit, yes. Since we terminated our agreement with HRT in 2011 Colin and myself had been talking to various investors and we had the chance to be in negotiations with several other teams - but it never happened. I must personally admit - whether this is on record or not - that I have built my own life very far from Formula One, including purchasing a football club in Italy. So yes, I was a bit out of the frame and was a bit surprised receiving this phone call.

Q: What is the condition of the team right now? Former owner Tony Fernandes presumably didn’t abandon it for no reason…

MR: My feeling is that with the previous owners having already pulled the plug in a quite evident way, the team did not believe anymore that they would race at Silverstone. There is some additional evidence for that. But not only did we manage to race at Silverstone, we also did the test at Silverstone and made it to Singapore. In the meantime we have also made some significant improvements to the car - some significant improvements in terms of restructuring - and we keep fighting. But I would like to be clear: we take it as it comes. We are very relaxed. I think we have done a small miracle to bring it to where it is. I think we also did a small miracle by improving the performance and being ahead of Marussia in terms of speed and very close to Lotus and Sauber. We are set to deliver miracles!

Q: How long will the miracles last?

MR: I hope that soon there will be some stabilising moments. This is our main goal: to stabilise the patient!

Q: That sounds like you believe that the team will make it to the 2015 season?

MR: We are currently testing our 2015 car in Cologne, at Toyota’s wind tunnel. Obviously you cannot run your car in Cologne just because of our extremely nice attitude. (laughs) You only can do this with an injection of cash - which we did. And if we do this it means that we are fully committed to being here next year. Let me explain some of the reasoning: a Formula One team and a Formula One entry are huge assets, and therefore you have to do your maximum to protect these assets.

Q: What are the next steps on the survival plan?

MR: We are currently trying to keep developing our current car. We want to introduce some more new bits and pieces because the 10th place in the constructors’ championship is our focus. P10 is of highest importance to us - but it is not vital. We have a plan in place regardless of the place, as we want to give the company a future. We have restructured the technical department and put it under the control of John Iley and his staff, which was not the case before we arrived. And it already shows very interesting data. But of course we will not build the world championship-winning car.

Q: Can you explain where you see the weaknesses at Caterham? You have seen a number of smaller teams and know what it takes to keep them alive…

MR: Excellent question - nobody has asked that one before. I’ll give you a clear answer: this is a small team which was structured as a mega, state-of-the-art, supersonic, top team - and it cannot work like this. You have to be realistic. I don’t know what the target of the previous owners was, but this is not sustainable - and it has proven not to be sustainable.

Q: You inherited the team principal position rather suddenly from Christijan Albers. What do you bring to the table for that job?

MR: I am a lucky man and I am not sure that it means you are lucky when you become a team principal! (laughs) I bring a huge amount of willingness to work and I bring the attitude of being a quick fix for everything. Not to find a quick fix, but to be the quick fix.

Q: So far the team’s ‘consultant’ Colin Kolles has attended the team principals’ meetings on behalf of Caterham. Why? The understanding was that he has only an advisory role…

MR: Yes, he is attending these meetings because he is the representative of the shareholders. Basically he has the last say, but is not involved in the day-to-day business. I see his position as being very similar to that of Dr Helmut Marko in the Red Bull environment.

Q: Can you say something about the team’s ownership structure? We are told it is a consortium of investors from Switzerland and Dubai…

MR: I will be very honest - I cannot be more honest - and if there are things that I don’t know then I am obviously not supposed to know everything. It works like this: it works basically as a club of people. They have been pulled together by Dr Kolles. It is a number of very wealthy individuals who just decided to play it cheap in the casino. They have no ambitions in F1 - they have their own businesses - and it is quite equally split between Switzerland and Dubai. And why is it so anonymous? I’ll give you an example. If I know a name and it circulated - if I said, ‘Mr White is behind it’ - then for sure we would have Mr Black who would say, ‘Why is Mr White becoming popular and not myself?’ Then Mr Green is saying, ‘But this was not agreed! Either none of us or all of us should be known - but I don’t want to be!’ We don’t want to enter into such a tricky game. We didn’t want to get involved in that matter of exposure of our shareholders. The situation as it is now gives us total freedom to work without any interference.

Q: So it is a clandestine gentlemen’s club?

MR: Probably you could say that. I presume that they are gathering on a Sunday for lunch and enjoying a race.

Q: Will there be a name change?

MR: This is not in the plans that I know right now. F1 history is made of name changes - and my history in F1 is plastered with name changes - but this is by far not a priority right now.

Q: What about drivers for 2015? Is anybody special on your mind?

MR: We have something in mind - and of course we are planning on a mix: an experienced driver and a ‘hot shoe’. We don’t want to lose Marcus (Ericsson) because the team invested in him in his rookie time and now wants to harvest on this investment, as we think that he will be able to deliver. Regarding Kamui (Kobayashi), he knows that he has open doors at Caterham. Obviously he knows that he also has to deliver this year. He has to help us to achieve the P10 that we are targeting.

Q: What are the next immediate steps?

MR: We are towards the end of the season with only flyaway races left where big changes are almost impossible, so we are working mainly in the office to work on the commercial side. We have the technical department that is focusing on 2015, and the race team takes it on a race-by-race basis. After Abu Dhabi we will exhale a bit and then start to get to know everybody better, which is very difficult when you come in at mid-season.

Q: Do you enjoy your role?

MR: That is my problem: the answer is yes. I am enjoying every single minute of it - every single troubled minute! (laughs)

Q: So we will see you in the same position next year?

MR: (Shrugs his shoulders)