Mid-Season Review: Caterham

Drivers: Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde
Championship standing: 11th
Highest finish: 14th

Caterham decided to drop Vitaly Petrov at the end of 2012 and stole Frenchman Charles Pic from rivals Marussia to partner Heikki Kovalainen. However, after the Finn’s refusal to pay for his seat in Formula One, he left the team and was replaced by Giedo van der Garde who had been lurking in the wings whilst racing in GP2 and waiting for the opportunity to be called to F1. Van der Garde’s drive was met with a mixed reaction as some felt he wasn’t entirely deserving of the seat, and that Kovalainen would have been a much better driver to pull the team towards the points finishes.

Regardless, Pic and Van der Garde lined up for the lean, mean, green machine in Australia. With much pre-season talk about 2013 being the year of the much desired points finish, Qualifying in Australia was a sharp awakening. While rookie Jules Bianchi stole the headlines with an impressive effort in his Marussia, the Caterhams locked out the back row of the grid, with Pic even failing to make it safely into the 107% race time. Race stewards eventually allowed Pic to race and he went on to finish 16th while team-mate Giedo finished 18th, which was the last of the remaining cars.

Malaysia saw Giedo take last place in Qualifying while Pic finished ahead of Chilton’s Marussia, but behind Bianchi who seemed quite untouchable. Indeed when Pic went on to finish fourteenth and record Caterham’s best result of the season (to date), it was with Bianchi ahead of him in thirteenth to place Marussia above Caterham in the constructors fight.

Unfortunately, it was back to the back for both drivers in China as van der Garde lined up last with Pic right in front of him. Once again, both drivers improved during the race (albeit due to the retirements of other drivers) but Pic’s 16th was infuriatingly beaten by Bianchi who took fifteenth. As per Australia, Van der Garde was eighteenth which served as last place.

With Van der Garde seemingly struggling in comparison to his team-mate, although lets not forget that Giedo is a rookie, Kovalainen was reintroduced to the team when he ran the first free practice session for the team in Bahrain. The team already had two reserve drivers, Alexander Rossi and Ma Qinghua and so one could guess that Heikki was brought in to try to motivate Giedo, although the official team line was that they were using Heikki’s experience to help the team progress. Either way it had no apparent effect on Van der Garde who finished twenty-first, and last, while Pic outraced the Sauber of Gutierrez and both Marussias.

It was a different story at the Spanish Grand Prix a few weeks later however. Van der Garde put in a fantastic qualifying to set himself higher than Pic, who qualified last, and both Marussias. It was a great physiological pick-up for the Dutchman but only served to add to the disappointment when his wheel fell off mid-race. His Pirelli came loose between turns 10 and 11 and although he made it back to the pits, the damage to his undertray was too substantial to continue racing. Charles, the sole remaining Caterham, took seventeenth in the race, beating both Marussia drivers.

Monaco was yet another superb Qualifying session for Giedo who was clearly getting accustomed to life in the F1 cockpit. In Qualifying, he not only beat his team-mate and both Marussias, but also Esteban Gutierrez, Pastor Maldonado, Paul di Resta and Felipe Massa. Fifteenth in Monaco seemed like a good shot at points but Sunday brought the team down from their Saturday high. Pic’s car burst into flames on Lap 9 and led to his retirement while Van der Garde was caught up in the Maldonado/Chilton crash. Throughout all the drama, Van der Garde still managed to finish fifteenth, but left the circuit knowing that much higher could have been on the cards.

Van der Garde’s impressive Qualifying pace seemed to have taken a knock from the events in Monaco and he lined up twenty-second and dead-last in Canada. Pic however, took the baton for the team and out-qualified both Marussias and the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. It was a disastrous race for Van der Garde who was the first to retire from the race. When Red Bull’s Mark Webber went to lap the Dutchman, he blocked him before moving across the Aussie at the hairpin. He was awarded a drive-through penalty for this and soon afterwards came to blows with Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg which left both men out of the race. Pic finished an average eighteenth for the team, dropping behind Bianchi during the race.

The F1 circus moved to Silverstone and Caterham were spared any of the tyre dramas that blighted other teams. From twentieth on the grid, Van der Garde progressed to eighteenth, although he was once again the last of the remaining cars. Pic moved from eighteenth to fifteenth in the race, finishing in front of Bianchi.

The German Grand Prix acted as a make-do home Grand Prix for Giedo van der Garde but he saw no special home performances. He was made the quickest Caterham in Qualifying when Pic incurred a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change. It was a quiet race for the Caterham duo which saw Pic finish 17th and Van der Garde finish 18th, but they did unleash the wrath of McLaren’s Jenson Button who was held up by Charles during the closing stages of the race.

And so to Hungary where both Caterhams lined up ahead of the two Marussias. Pic was nineteenth ahead of Van der Garde in twentieth, but it was the rookie who outscored his team-mate when Van der Garde finished fourteenth to equal the team’s best result this season. Pic finished fifteenth with Bianchi and Chilton right behind him in sixteenth and seventeenth.

As you can see, Caterham went from being outqualified by both Marussias at the first round, to qualifying ahead of both Marussias in the last round before the summer break. It’s far from the points finish which were dreamed about pre-season but it does seem to show promise in the backmarker battle – although Bianchi’s thirteenth in Malaysia is keeping Marussia ahead of Caterham in the constructors table. The rumours that Heikki would be coming in to replace Van der Garde are not subsiding, but don’t seem to have any reputable source. The Dutchman has come under intense criticism as it’s easy to forget that the 27-year-old is still a rookie in F1. However, if they can merely match Marussia in the development race then I should imagine that the Leafield based outfit will emerge the victors in the small, but important battle at the back.

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