Caterham Formula One Team Sold…But To Who?

Caterham Formula One Car

Each of the top teams in Formula One reportedly spends more than $200,000,000 a year on its racing programs. Part of that money is reimbursed to them at the end of the season based upon the number of Constructor’s Championship Points they score. Sadly, the  payout is limited to the top 10 teams, and there are 11 teams in Formula One at the moment. One of them has never scored a championship point in its entire existence. None. That team is Caterham.

Until recently, Caterham was owned by Tony Fernandes, a wealthy Malaysian businessman, who began racing in Formula One in 2010 as Team Lotus. He became embroiled in a bitter international feud over the Lotus name, which was also claimed by another team partly owned by Renault. After much high profile litigation, Fernandes bought Caterham Cars, relinquished his claim to the Lotus name and rebranded the team as Caterham F1 starting in 2012.

In 2014, Formula One embarked on a new era that places far greater emphasis on hybrid power. Caterham’s results so far have been dismal. In early July, Fernandes announced he had sold the team to a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors, telling the press, “F1 hasn’t worked.”

Now almost two weeks later, who these mysterious Swiss and Middle Eastern investors are has yet to be disclosed. It is interesting to note that in the past few season, other struggling teams, particularly Sauber F1 and Lotus, have hinted of involvement with investors from Russia and the Middle East but those deals somehow got quietly called off when the details were announced.

With a billion or more passing through Formula One’s coffers every year, all sorts of nefarious characters linger at the edges of the sport. Can you say “money laundering”, boys and girls? The sport is ever vigilant to prevent “shady characters” from getting involved, even though Bernie Ecclestone, the most powerful man in Formula One, is currently on trial in Germany for allegedly paying a $40,000,000 bribe. Perhaps we should make that more shady characters.

In the meantime, management of the Caterham F1 team will fall to perennial Formula One gadfly, Colin Kolles, formerly a principal in the failed HRT Formula One team.  Prior to the Caterham announcement, he was thought to be involved in a potential new team based in Rumania called Forza Rossa Racing. Kolles will be assisted by Manfredi Ravetto, himself a refugee from HRT. Christian Albers, a former F1 driver who had a decidedly unremarkable career, will serve as Team Principal. Says Albers:

“We are aware of the huge challenge ahead of us given the fight at the bottom end of the championship and our target now is to aim for tenth place in the 2014 championship,” Albers said in a statement. “We are very committed to the future of the team and we will ensure that the team has the necessary resources to develop and grow and achieve everything it is capable of.”

Apparently, Fernandes had refused to spend any money developing the current race car. But according to Grand, the new owners have approved a plan to improve the aerodynamic performance of cars. New parts are said to be in the wind tunnel at this moment and should appear at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in September.

All of which begs the question: Why would any people, whether Swiss or Middle Eastern, invest millions and millions of dollars in a money losing proposition? If your answer is “I don’t know”, join the club.


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.