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Last roll of the dice for Caterham as redundancies underline the reality

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Last roll of the dice for Caterham as redundancies underline the reality
Nov 16, 2014, 6:19 PM

[updated]The Caterham F1 team may be taking a skeleton staff of 40 to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but today the administrators announced that 230 red...

[updated]The Caterham F1 team may be taking a skeleton staff of 40 to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but today the administrators announced that 230 redundancies have been made at the team's Leafield base. And tonight Kamui Kobayashi was confirmed as one of the drivers.

The reality is that the crowd funding initiative, which raised some of the money for the team to compete in the final Grand Prix, has given the team a last roll of the dice and now they have to hope that one of the "interested parties" who have been looking into buying the team, will come through.

The problem is that F1 has entertained a long series of "interested parties" who come along a kick the tyres and think about buying an F1 team, but very few take that leap.

Australian entrepreneur Paul Stoddart experienced it when he sold Minardi; through the door came a string of dreamers, asset strippers and shysters who had no intention of running an F1 team properly. He was lucky; after entertaining over 40 time wasters, along came Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz, who decided it was the right time to start a B team, so he purchased the Faenza based outfit and rebranded it Toro Rosso. There are not too many other examples of successful sales in recent years and even fewer of teams in administration.

And to make things even more tricky, it's not as if the F1 establishment is making encouraging noises about the outlook for smaller teams. Bernie Ecclestone is playing hardball and the FIA has not come out strongly to support the independents, beyond FIA president Jean Todt saying a few months ago that he would like to keep all the teams in F1.

The Abu Dhabi roll of the dice for Caterham comes at a time when established teams like Force India, Sauber and Lotus are questioning whether the strategy for the sport is to get rid of them and to have five superpower teams with five satellite B team outfits.

Richard Branson, Tony Fernandes

So you would have to be very brave to buy an independent F1 team at this moment in time. Sometimes serious business people do make decisions they come to regret when it comes to F1; consider the naivety shown by experienced and successful businessmen like Tony Fernandes and Richard Branson, who actually believed in 2009 that then FIA president Max Mosley would be able to deliver his promised £50 million budget cap in the face of total refusal by Ferrari, Red Bull and others to entertain the concept.

The years have passed but the old adage remains as true as ever - the best way to make a small fortune in F1 is to start with a big one.

The other question this weekend is who the drivers will be in Abu Dhabi.

Caterham has already used three drivers; Marcus Ericsson, Kamui Kobayashi and Andre Lotterer, who made a single outing at Spa. The FIA rules say that only four drivers can be used in a season. Here's the Regulation:

"During a season each team will be permitted to use four drivers. Changes may be made at any time before the start of the qualifying practice session provided any change proposed after 16.00 on the day of scrutineering receives the consent of the stewards."

However, there is an additional clause, which no doubt the administrators would argue should apply here:

"Additional changes for reasons of force majeure will be considered separately."

So the likelihood is that a new driver will come in with the significant funding, which has made up for the shortfall in the crowd funding, or possibly there will be a new driver plus one of the original three. Lotterer has confirmed that he has received an approach, while Ericsson has severed all ties with the team.

Kobayashi returns after he posted a photo of a repaired suspension part in Russia, expressing fear about whether the car was safe.

"I am happy to be racing with the team in Abu Dhabi," said the Japanese driver. "It hasn't been an easy last few weeks, so it will be nice to be back to in the car and work together with the Caterham F1 team members. I would like to thank the fans for supporting the team like they have. This team is working hard and never gives up. We deserve to be racing in Abu Dhabi and I am very glad we can race again thanks to the crowdfunding Project."

Meanwhile Spanish driver Roberto Mehri has driven for the team in Friday morning practice and his father says that he has a contract that he gets the drive in the event that one of the regular drivers drops out.

"We have a contract that says if any of the main drivers can't run, Roberto should be driving," he told Autosport.

"They are in receivership, but receivership doesn't mean that things have to change. Receivership is paying people, but receivership does not change activity, or it shouldn't change activity. If there is a contract, they have got to obey the contract, and maybe be bound by it."

GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer's name has been linked with the drive. He desperately wants to get into F1 next year and while, on the one hand, an opportunity to get a Grand Prix under his belt and show what he can do would be welcome, on the other hand the Caterhams will be out on their own at the back, way off the pace of the next slowest team. Sauber and Lotus have done development work and have improved their pace recently, Force India too.

At their last race, in Russia for example, Caterham was 4.38% off the benchmark pace. In Brazil Sauber was 2.24% off, Force India 2.61% and Lotus 2.88% off. So the gap will be far wider than it was last time the green cars were on track.

And on a track where overtaking backmarkers isn't the easiest, one hopes that the sideshow of Caterham's last roll of the dice doesn't interact with the main event of the settling of the world championship between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
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