As Team Lotus embarks on its final F1 race before becoming Caterham F1 next season, team boss Tony Fernandes this morning laid out his vision for the team to a small group of media in the paddock at Interlagos.
There were many details to do with the company being in four main divisions and some of the initiatives were eye catching. For example the future of technical director Mike Gascoyne.
He and Fernandes see great potential in taking F1 composites and other technologies into aviation, an area where Fernandes has businesses (Air Asia and a share in Malaysian Airlines) and Gascoyne has a lot of interest.
“Mike Gascoyne will combine his role as CTO of Caterham F1 Team with that of CEO of Caterham Composites and will head up a company specialising in the composites industry. They are already working on projects across the aerospace, nautical, motorsport and roadcar industries,” said Fernandes.
It sounded from the way Fernandes was talking like Gascoyne might end up in that area of the business in the next few years after getting the racing team up to a certain level. He is two years into a five year contract with the team and has recruited some impressive names to join, such as the recent hiring of McLaren aero man John Iley. One imagines that as the team reaches a critical mass, the recruitment of a technical director to replace him will become one of Gascoyne’s targets.
Fernandes described 2012 as “a defining year for us”, they must move up into the midfield, but he drew a comparison with Premier League football, where his QPR team beat Chelsea to show that on any given week a smaller team can beat a big one, even if over a season they finish lower in the table. But in F1 this doesn’t happen. The last time it did was Sebastian Vettel’s win in the rain at Monza with Toro Rosso in 2008.
Fernandes feels that too much money is spent making F1 cars and that even the top teams would like to bring this down, if they can only all agree on big cuts as part of a process leading to a new Concorde Agreement.
He said he would “hold on to Heikki (Kovalainen) whatever” in the face of some attempts to poach him by bigger teams. “We deserve some credit for Heikki,” he added, “He loves it here and has flourished here. It’s a happy team. He wants to see how he’ll perform next year in a better car.”
But he was luke warm on Jarno Trulli, despite saying he had a contract to race in 2012. One senses that he is exploring alternatives and he has met several times with Red Bull young driver director Helmut Marko who has four drivers to place next year in two Toro Rosso seats and elsewhere. One could see the logic, for example, of them placing Dan Ricciardo there with Kovalainen as a benchmark.
Finishing 10th in the constructors’ championship is worth something like $20 million to the team so this will be a nervous afternoon in changeable conditions to see whether either HRT or Virgin can get a 12th place finish which would give them 10th in the constructors’.
Fernandes believes that an F1 team works best if it is aligned with a car company and having failed to do it with Lotus, he is bringing Caterham cars under the same roof as the F1 team, most likely at Leafield in Oxford. The company has opened offices in India and plans expansion into emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe where he believes there will be demand for affordable sports cars (£20-30k) which feature F1 derived technology. Although he did not say it, these are likely to feature 1.4 litre turbo engined hybrids, like F1 will use from 2014 onwards.
The GP2 and GP3 teams will continue as Caterham Racing.