Caterham F1 suffered one of its worst results of the 2012 F1 season in Singapore last weekend but, even without the technical problems that beset both Heikki Kovalainen
and Vitaly Petrov, was already under pressure from a revitalise Marussia squad.
While the Russian-owned outfit went on to enjoy its best ever finish on the streets of Marina Bay, Caterham was left to lick the wounds inflicted by finishes of 15th and 19th, but technical director Mark Smith insists that there will be no knee-jerk reaction to being deposed from the lucrative tenth spot in the constructors' standings which it has occupied in each of its previous two seasons in the top flight.
"It's not a big surprise, we know that Marussia has closed the gap and have made lots of big progress," Smith told F1 reporter Stephen English, "For probably the last five or six races, certainly since Silverstone, we are trying to evaluate so much stuff in the first free practice session that, inevitably, what falls down the priority list is optimising the set-up of the car. We're still trying to do lots of evaluations on little pieces of the car, and particularly anything to do with exhaust blowing, which we cant model very well, has to be on the car in that first free practice session.
"I suppose what I am saying is that we are going to have to resist the urge to panic in the first practice session, as there is that factor that we are not working too much on the car in that session.
"Also I think that, with the car we have, in terms of downforce, circuit evolution is a bigger factor for us. So, as the circuit rubbers in, we make better use of that and the car works better relative to some of the other cars. I think that's what we saw in FP2 and then FP3. I think, as we gravitate towards qualifying, as long as we do our homework well, we end up where we should be as opposed to dropping the ball in some way. I think, by and large, it's been a positive progression throughout the weekend."
Smith's revelation that the team is continuing to evaluate new developments this far into the season prompts the question whether the CT-01 will continue to be upgraded for the renewed fight with Marussia, or whether the work is being conducted largely with a view to next year, when Caterham has already announced that it will be running a development of its current car.
"What we are trying to do, and have been all season to be honest, is that when, we have a performance advantage - and I guess our view is that would be about a tenth of a second - then we try and bring that to the race," he explained, "Our aero gradient has been fairly constant at a certain number of points per week. I think that you can either try and build it up in a big step or increment it on a steady basis. I think it's just area under the curve that, if you increment on a steady basis, you will ultimately get more from it.
"Obviously there are implications, logistical and cost, associated with that, but I don't think that we've done anything where we thought, 'well, actually if we waited another race, we could have rolled that up and been more cost-effective'. With the budget that we have, I think that we always try to do the most cost-effective things anyway. Even compared to my stint with Renault, developments tended to be two or three big developments throughout the year, but it's really three, four or five years ago that we [made] this change to [it being] every race where every team is looking to take changes to the car. The development rate is very high.
"As with every other team, we do statistical analysis of our performance compared to our competitors and, if you take the three teams ahead of us - Toro Rosso, Williams
and Force India
- we are developing, broadly speaking, at the same rate as them from the beginning of the season to now. Given the resources that we have, I don't think that's too bad but, obviously, it's just matching them. We'll never catch people so, somehow, we have to make the jump and probably the biggest factor will be how much of a gain we can make in the close season.