Its a Lotterery Win at Caterham

Not happy with the announcement that 16 year old Verstappen will drive at Toro Rosso, Caterham have raced out of the summer break announcing that 32 year old German Andre Lotterer will make his F1 race debut for the team this weekend in place of Kamui Kobayashi. The team have hinted this is a one time team as Lotterer has WEC events left this year that clash with F1 and announced that Kamui remains with the team.

The German has had little recent top flight open wheel experience (His last taste of F1 was in 2002!!) but is a 3 time LeMans winner (Including the current champion) so it will be interesting to see how a driver does going the opposite way to many deposed F1 drivers.

The challenge facing the German shouldn’t be under estimated with these complex new cars, no testing time and racing on one of F1’s toughest tracks – Spa. Many drivers have stated that Eau Rouge will be a huge challenge this year with these new cars and is unlikely to be taken flat.

Its another bizarre decision from the team who were recently bought out by an Arab led consortium and proceeded to lay off 1/3 of the staff. Furthermore if the new owners were unsatisfied with Kobayashi’s work there are many experienced F1 drivers around who do not currently have drives, although recent history shows that swapping drivers mid-season usually does little to improve performance.

Andre Lotterer

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The F1 Rookies of 2014

With Formula 1 having its largest rule shake up in decades we expected many of the teams to retain their drivers for this season, however the silly season produced a game of musical chairs that left only Mercedes and Marussia with the same drivers as in 2013. The movement was prompted by the retirement of Mark Webber and Ferrari finally losing patience with Felipe Massa and hiring Raikkonen from cash strapped Lotus to try and improve their constructors standing. That said there are still 3 fresh new faces to follow this year over the 19 race calendar:

Kevin Magnussen

Kevin Magnussen the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 series champion replaces Sergio Perez at McLaren to be the first rookie at McLaren since a certain Hamilton quietly joined in 2008. The Dane is the son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen and has looked like he could certainly improve on his father’s career tally of 1 point. In testing the youngster has impressed many watching by jumping in the car and getting on with it, he could well prove to be a World Champion but its early days and the pressure is most certainly off.

However he has build a solid junior career and been with McLaren for a few years in their junior programme. He battled hard with fellow McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne (who finished 2nd and will race in GP2 this year) and Red Bull youngester Antonio Felix Da Costa (3rd) to claim the championship and has been richly rewarded. There were strong rumours that McLaren had tried to place him in a smaller team for this season but failed to find him a drive leading to them to dispose of Sergio Perez after a year and go for the young Dane in the main team. He will need to prove himself and quick to make sure he stays at Woking.

Daniil Kyvat

Many eyebrows (and spell checkers) were raised when Toro Rosso announced that Russian GP3 driver Daniil Kyvat would be joining the Red Bull junior team to replace the recently promoted Daniel Ricciardo. He was chosen over Antonio Felix Da Costa who was loosing his battle to beat the McLaren young drivers in Formula Renault 3.5 and Carlos Sainz Jr who was also racing in GP3. Both men had more experience but the decision may yet be vindicated as after his signing the Russian 19 year old romped home to the GP3 title in his rookie year taking pole, win and fastest lap in the last two feature races of the year and followed it up with solid drives in F1 tests/practices.

The more you look into the Russian you realise that he is a super talent and stands to do better than any of his country men before him in the premier class of motorsport but will he fall foul of the Red Bull curse? While the Red Bull young drivers program is a shining example of what to do to bring on young drivers the real question has always been is it the time to do it? The 19 year old has only had 4 seasons of open wheel racing under his belt none of which has been in a category that people consider to be the rung below F1 (E.G. GP2 or FR 3.5).

There’s great potential but I wonder if it will be a bit too much of an ask for him to jump from GP3 straight to F1, while Valterri Bottas did it he was nurtured by Williams with plenty of test outings. Kvyatt had just got his super license by Brazil last year.

Marcus Ericsson

Caterham is host to the final rookie of 2014, 23 year old Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson who was spotted when racing karts at 9 years old. The Swede wasn’t on any ones radar until Brazil when it popped up that he was talking to Caterham that weekend in the paddock. Ericsson has had average GP2 results with 2 feature wins (Germany 2013 & Belgium 2012) along with a sprint victory (Valencia 2010). His championship standings over the past 4 years show a steady improvement – 17th, 10th, 8th and 6th suggesting he possibly reached GP2 a little too early in his career. However a feature win in Spa aside there is very little to pick Ericsson out from the crowd so one would have to assume (and Caterham have alluded to it) that he brings with him a decent wad of cash.

He’s up against another driver who didn’t have a fantastic GP2 career in Kamui Kobayashi (Although he did win the 08/09 GP2 Asia Series), however the Japanese racer has shown that he has what it takes to overtake in F1 and is a strong fan favourite who has won his place on the grid through gutsy performances after Toyota pulled out leaving him without backing in 2010.

Unfortunately we’ve seen far too much of this driver selection over the past few years in F1, drivers with middling GP2 results but large wallets snapped up by teams to help fund them (and its always been so but just very so over the past few years). But at least this season Caterham have paired him with an established and popular name on the grid – hurrah!

Sauber Going Giedo and DTM Reunions

With the Caterham drivers line-up expected to be announced today (They announced it while I was writing this!) Giedo Van Der Garde has popped up at Sauber as the test and reserve driver for 2014. A surprise considering after hiring Adrian Sutil from Force India to partner Esteban Gutierrez for a second season, the team was widely expected to name Sergy Sirotkin for the majority of the In-season testing and Friday practice runs. Instead the 2013 Caterham pilot will fill this role and has confirmed that he will get Friday running in the new improved FP1’s (where there is an extra set of tires for the first 30 mins and driver swaps are allowed) alongside driving some of the 8 days of in-season testing permitted in 2014. While Van Der Garde does bring with him fashion brand McGregor with him Sirotkin is backed by a lot of Russian investment in the team, so maybe the new pay masters have either not paid up or have been talked down.

Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi have completed the field in F1 alongside Robert Frijns swapping from Hinwil to Leafield to be the test and reserve driver.

In the spirit of reunion’s the DTM roster has been filling up now F1 has slotted into place and Paul Di Resta has announced his return to the series he won in 2010 with the works HWA Mercedes team. He could yet drive F1 machinery this year as he could have landed a Mercedes test/reserve role alongside his drive. He will be joined in DTM by stalwart Gary Paffet, Timo Glock and Red Bull outcast Felix Da Costa, who missed out on the Toro Rosso drive to GP3 Champion Danill Kyvatt.

Expect a lot more movement this week with test/reserve roles now looking slightly worthwhile in F1 and a few spots left to fill in DTM, WEC and Indy Car.

Season In Review – Caterham – New Lows

We start off the traditional end of season look with the last placed team – Caterham.

File:F1 2013 Barcelona test 2 - Caterham.jpg

In a first for the team in green after finishing ahead of their young team contemporaries, Caterham found themselves last in the standings after the wheels stopped turning in Brazil. With no HRT to create a rolling road block at the back of the pack, Jules Bianchi’s 13th place in Malaysia sealed the deal for the other 2010 entrant still surviving. At the back of the grid this year development was halted very early due to the massive shake up next year in the regulations so there was never going to be much hope for Caterham to really progress despite years of promises otherwise.

The team decided to release Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen to replace them with Charles Pic from Marussia and rookie Geido Van Der Garder. In a change to the teams principles this saw no real experience in the garage (apart from Pic’s lone season at rivals Marussia) but plenty of cash to fill the coffers at Leafield. But it was telling that the team had to re-recruit Heikki to drive in FP1 to help develop the car throughout the year as the in-experience of their drivers showed.

Unfortunately for Caterham a slow start hampered them and although they were generally faster than Marussia throughout the year the “other car in red” was definitely the faster package out of the box. The drop to last place wont harm Caterham’s financials too much as to stay a category 2 team (which Caterham have become bringing much more prize money) you have to finish 10th or higher in 2 of the last 3 seasons. This leaves it imperative that the team can outscore Marussia next year and could see Heikki return to the car.

As for the drivers Geido Van Der Garder’s heroics in Spa spring to mind and by the half-way mark the Dutchman had certainly turned the tables on his more experienced French team mate and looks the better of the pair. However how good either are is up for debate as neither provide a good yard stick.

Next season is going to be key with a huge spike in costs and without new sponsors or big money pay drivers expect there to only be 10 teams rolling into Australia in 2015.