Caterham F1 headed into 2012 looking to pick off from where they had left off last year, hoping to challenge the midfield runners and gain their first points. And although they are yet to see a clear positional step, the team believe there have been significant gains, particularly in race trim.
Following some positive pre-season tests, which had indicated an improvement in reliability and single-lap pace, Caterham have had a mixture of results in the opening grands prix. A double DNF in Melbourne was followed by both cars reaching the chequered flag in Malaysia, however due to the conditions in the latter the team feel they were less able to gain a strong stance on the cars main areas for improvement then they would have hoped. “I’d have to say that Melbourne’s not a particularly representative race circuit and although Malaysia probably is more so, the weather we had there diminished the value of it in terms of the amount of dry running we got.” said Mark Smith, Caterham technical director.
With new regulations in place, regarding the front-nose and exhaust system particularly, it was always going to be interesting to see how all of the teams would approach the design of the car. These kinds of drastic rule changes which alter or remove a large component of the cars are happening more frequently now as the sport looks to cut costs and provide a more level playing field. The changes in specifications orders that the cars rely much on the interpretations of the designers and there is a lot to be gained by finding loop-holes in the rule book; a point proven by Brawn and Toyota in 2009 and currently by Mercedes GP with their ‘W’ Duct.
Caterham would have been hoping to exploit the loss of exhaust-blown diffusers and the gain of KERS as their route towards the midfield, however as one team take a step forward as do the rest. The likes of Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber have each made good ground over the winter and narrowing that gap means many more resources are required, fundamentally money. Sauber in particular have made good use of their exhaust system, extracting as much benefit as possible from the newly shaped exits. It can be costly in both resources and time investment when trying to replicate the design of another team’s car, and it is necessary to strike a balance between this investment and proportionate performance gained.
Smith says the team, conscious of the overheating problems Red Bull suffered with the same KERS unit last season, initially opted against optimising this area of the car but revealed work was now underway in the wind tunnel to develop a revised system - athough the wider development programme on the CT01 remained at the forefront of the team’s work.
“The idea was that once we were up and running we could then look at the exhausts in respect to what other people did over the winter and whether there was any backlash from a legality perspective,” he explained. “I think we can now see what seems to be permissible and we have, for a while now, been doing work in the wind tunnel to develop a system ourselves. We are under control temperature-wise with KERS, but I think we just gave ourselves a better chance of not shooting ourselves in the foot in that respect.
“So, I think we do have to go there. If you can make it work then there’s a decent chunk of performance in it. However, what we don’t want to do, because we are resource limited, is put too much emphasis on that, to the degree that our ‘bread and butter’ development gradient begins to suffer. It’s a bit of a balancing act but we are working in that area now.”