The first step of legal proceedings between the purchasers of Caterham F1 and the original owners has commenced.
Swiss-based consortium Engavest SA bought MRT1 – the company that owns the entry – at the end of June. However after the management it put in place had run the team for several months it emerged that the original owners had not handed over the shares.
At the same time the associated Caterham Sports company went into the hands of the administrators, who in turn then gained control of the whole team.
Engavest is seeking compensation, and has now began a process of arbitration with Tony Fernandes and his partners with a view to coming to a resolution.
Caterham has yet to confirm who will drive its second car alongside Kamui Kobayashi in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
The late revival of Marussia has seemingly caused leading candidate Max Chilton to drop out of the running.
“It should clearly be decided very soon,” administrator Finbarr O’Connell told this writer. “I’m just waiting so that I can announce what’s going to happen.”
O’Connell admitted that Marussia’s late decision to go to Abu Dhabi had taken Chilton off the market.
“I had heard rumours that he was interested in the seat if Marussia weren’t running. I wish him well in Marussia if they are. He’s under contract and clearly he would never do anything against his contract.
“He can only race one car in one team. I’m told this is possibly the latest arrival ever if Marussia come tomorrow.”
Roberto Merhi, who ran three FP1 sessions this year, signed a contract with the previous management which stipulates that he would drive Marcus Ericsson’s car if it became available.
However, while the Spaniard was given a ‘provisional’ superlicence to run in FP1s, it seems that he still doesn’t have a full one: “My understanding is that he doesn’t have a superlicence.”
Regarding the prospects of the team getting a superlicence for another rookie – such as Will Stevens, who had hoped to run FP1 earlier this season – he said: “We’ll have to wait and see. I’ve said to them all that I won’t mention their names as it won’t be fair.”
Amid the excitement over Caterham making the trip to Abu Dhabi in order to secure its future doubts remain over the team’s ability to build a 2015 car on time.
When the previous management stepped aside work was well underway on the new chassis, but that has stopped since the administrator took over. There is now no activity at the factory as only a skeleton race team has been re-hired on a ‘consultancy’ basis in order to run the Abu Dhabi weekend.
Sources say that the chances of Caterham readying a new car in time for next season are diminishing rapidly, should someone be able to salvage the outfit post-Abu Dhabi. That means the only option would be to extend the life of the 2014 chassis.
The major change to next year’s rules involves the front chassis height, and while some teams say that they would not be able to carry over their 2014 chassis, apparently in theory Caterham can comply.
The bigger problem is that the power unit Renault is homologating for 2015 requires substantial repackaging, and that will be a costly and lengthy process.
Renault suggested to the previous management that Caterham sticks with the 2014 power unit, which would be cheaper. In addition the initial version of the 2015 power unit is not expected to be an improvement on the current one, which explains why Red Bull is so keen to introduce a summer upgrade.
However under the rules manufacturers can only have one power unit homologated, and thus the 2014 version will no longer be legal.
It’s understood that Renault and the previous Caterham management lobbied the FIA for permission to use the older power unit, and that Jean Todt said he would refer the matter to the F1 Commission and thus the World Motor Sport Council.
It remains to be seen whether that request is still being processed, and indeed what plans have been put in place by administrator Finbarr O’Connell. Any discussion of what route might be taken is academic as long as the team has no staff…
Caterham has now officially confirmed that it will travel to the Abu Dhabi GP, despite not reaching the proposed £2.35m crowdfunding target.
No mention has been made of drivers, and remains to be seen how competitive or organised the last minute will be.
In a statement administrator Finbarr O’Connell said: “We set ourselves a major challenge, but it’s definitely been worth it! In only a week the fans have made the impossible, possible. We knew that the best way to keep this team alive and attract possible buyers was to show that it’s still a racing team and be in Abu Dhabi for the finale, and there aren’t enough words to say how grateful we are to all the fans that have made this possible.
“We now head to Abu Dhabi ready to show what a hard-working and positive group of people this is and to hopefully secure a future for the team. During the past few days the interest of many potential buyers has increased massively and by racing in Abu Dhabi the team will be showcasing itself as a live and functioning team that deserves to continue into 2015 and beyond.
“It has hard-working people, team spirit and experience and now it only needs a secure financial future which I’m very hopeful we can achieve. Once again, I’d like to reiterate that we are racing in Abu Dhabi thanks to all the fans out there – an achievement that will go down in F1 history and one that we can all be very proud of. We still need to raise a bit more cash so please do keep an eye on the Crowdcube website. Let’s go racing!”
Caterham administrator Finbarr O’Connell remains confident that the team will travel to Abu Dhabi this weekend, despite the crowdfunding total being some £1m short of the intended target of £2.35m.
O’Connell says that the team will probably go and rely on some last minute deals adding to the total. Under the commercial arrangements with Bernie Ecclestone teams can miss two races, Bernie has made it clear that attendance at the final race is crucial to the future.
There is no news on drivers, with Marcus Ericsson having withdrawn from the team earlier this week, despite having already paid his sponsorship for the full season.
“I am 90 percent confident that we are going,” O’Connell told Reuters. “In the last few days three interested buyers have come forward. They are people with F1 connections who are seriously interested and who if any of them bought it, the world would say ‘that makes sense.’”
Regarding last minute deals, he said: “If some of those things happen, we expect to be announcing we are going. If we are still a few hundred thousand pounds short, we will recalibrate up to race day to raise the rest.”
Meanwhile a source told this writer: “The staff have been made redundant but the race team personnel re-engaged as consultants to be paid if they go to Abu Dhabi. They haven’t been told yet.”
Marcus Ericsson has terminated his contract with Caterham, which means he will not be driving in Abu Dhabi should the crowdfunding project allow the team to make to trip.
In theory the team was obliged to use the Swede, whose sponsorship was paid until the end of the season. The news does at least mean that the administrators now running the outfit can take a driver with funds, if there are any takers.
Speaking via social media Ericsson said: “Following recent events re Caterham Sports Limited and 1 MRT Sdn Bhd, my adviser Eje Elgh and I have decided to terminate, with immediate effect, all agreements connecting me to the Caterham F1 team. This is a sad day as we have greatly enjoyed working with the team through a difficult and tough season.
“I wish to thank Colin Kolles, Manfredi Ravetto, Cyril Abiteboul and every other member of the Caterham F1 team for your trust and confidence in me, and for making my first Formula 1 season an educational and unforgettable experience. In addition, I thank my good friend and teammate Kamui Kobayashi for being an inspiring benchmark throughout the year, and hope to see him back on the track soon.”
Former GP3 driver Alice Powell has expressed an interest to the media re driving in FP1 in Abu Dhabi, but her chances of getting a superlicence would seem to be zero.
The administrators for Caterham Sports Ltd claim that they are talking to potential buyers for the F1 team.
Smith & Williamson have also taken control of 1MRT, the entity that actually owns the F1 team’s entry.
In a statement the company said: “We remain in conversation with a number of credible, interested parties regarding the sale of the historic Caterham F1 racing team.
“Our current strategy is to seek a buyer that will allow the team to compete in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi on 23 November 2014 and we are doing all we can to make that happen. However, if a deal cannot be finalised in time, then the strategy is to secure a buyer to allow the team to compete in the 2015 F1 championship.
“We are working with our specialist Corporate Finance team to manage the sale process and we have received several expressions of interest from parties with the financial strength to fund a F1 race team. These conversations are ongoing. We believe this approach will maximise the assets of the broader Caterham F1 team and so enable the best outcome for creditors and other stakeholders, including employees of 1MRT.”
One thing that has not been addressed is the fact that in theory entries for the 2015 World Championship have to be filed – and paid for – by November 1.