May 22 2013 Latest news:
Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Thursday, June 28, 2012
The expectations, reasoning and circumstances have varied throughout the three-year existence of Lotus Racing/Team Lotus/Caterham – but no matter what they say, the big goal to achieve on the race track, the one they will always be asked about until it happens, has been the same.
• GW – Fernando Alonso: From a Ferrari that looked like a dog to handle, the Spaniard not only has a car he can now work with – he is delivering on a Sunday. No doubt he will take some beating.
• BW – Renault: Had to apologise to Lotus and Red Bull for their engine failures in Valencia – amazing how rare such things are in Formula One today.
It was spoken to me by Mike Gascoyne as he sat down ahead of their first campaign in 2010. And it’s almost difficult to imagine how much that team has changed in that time.
That first championship point – that is what it’s all about.
Yes, 10th place in the constructors’ championship opened doors – and battling with midfield runners on pace alone is obviously necessary to make progress. But only when you pick up your team’s first point will it feel like you are finally playing a part, and all that effort has finally brought tangible reward.
Tony Fernandes’ team is yet to taste that – but by my reckoning, Caterham came closer to it in Valencia on Sunday than at any race before. Significantly close.
"I don’t know why he drove like that; he was completely lost and I had good pace – he tried an aggressive move on me"
In truth, the Hingham outfit’s task has been tougher than ever this season. The midfield is now so close to the leading teams, it is basically on top of them busily invading their much-prized space. So in effect, Caterham have been trying to catch up with Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull as much as Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso.
The latter of that second group are doing their bit with Toro Rosso seemingly unable to make progress on their car, while Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne drive in the erratic way you would expect from the pair’s limited experience.
Caterham have talked of big upgrades before; big steps. And they haven’t really made a difference.
But on Saturday their Valencia package took them above both Toro Rossos on pace alone, at a relatively normal track, and into Q2.
It delivered arguably their strongest race result on Sunday too.
And there are even greater upgrades to the CT01’s aerodynamics ahead for Silverstone. It’s getting to the point where a few extra tenths of a second really will make a difference.
Unlike past upgrades, it’s the team’s growth that is delivering a genuine impact. Caterham have their own custom office at Williams’ Grove wind tunnel, maximising their development time. Their computer aerodynamicists – who use computational fluid dynamics or CFD to help design and develop upgrades – form a huge, in-house department compared to when the team started out.
And now the talented duo of technical chief Mark Smith and performance director John Iley are starting to get their feet under the table at Hingham – or as it is soon to be, Leafield near Silverstone. That’s why this time, Caterham can deliver on their promise. What Valencia proved is they are long beyond simply heading in the right direction.
• There was one statistic that suggested this season was not quite as unpredictable as we all thought – until Sunday’s European Grand Prix, at least.
Rather remarkably, every dry race this season had been won by a car on the front row of the grid – suggesting the unpredictability of F1 2012 comes before everyone arrives at the circuit, and not between Saturday and Sunday.
The only anomaly was the wet race in Malaysia, where Fernando Alonso took his shocking Ferrari from eighth on the grid to the top step of the podium.
And then we get Valencia, where Alonso worked his magic again – this time in the dry, as he turned 11th in qualifying into 25 points, with a bit of help from some surprising retirements.
For such a usually stagnant circuit, it was great to see.
It may also give Hethel-backed Lotus cause for optimism.
Their qualifying pace did improve at the weekend – and there is no doubt that will help their quest for a race victory.
Had it been Kimi Räikkönen’s alternator that had failed, Romain Grosjean would have been in prime position to go one better than his Montreal effort.
In the end, Lotus and Kimi had to settle for second. But come Silverstone’s demands, Lotus will be hoping to get it right on both Saturday and Sunday – and bring home the one thing their 2012 has been missing so far. A victory.