Caterham's performance, or relative lack of it, was one of the talking points of the Australian Grand Prix, but the team insists that there is a good reason why it may not have been ahead of main rival Marussia in Melbourne.
Charles Pic and rookie Giedo van der Garde both finished a couple of laps down on race winner Kimi Raikkonen in the season-opener, with the Frenchman also unable to live with countryman Jules Bianchi in the best of the Marussia entries, despite making one stop fewer for tyres, but team principal Cyril Abiteboul revealed that there was more to come from the CT03, which is not yet running in its full 2013 specification.
“Clearly, I think that we have chosen to go for a strategy that is a little bit different from other teams, in the sense that we do not operate our new car for now,” Abiteboul explained, “We have strategies that will make the car evolve according to different packages, the first of which will come in Bahrain, [but] we are running right now on a hybrid car, so we are pretty much where we expected it to be.
“It doesn't mean it is where we wanted it to be [and], having said that, we have been analysing clearly the difference, the gap between Marussia and our car. First, we want to diminish a little bit the fight between Marussia and ourselves. We are competitors and we would like to make our way up through the grid, not backwards but up towards the front.”
As well as Marussia having designed a better car than in its previous three seasons, the Banbury-based team has also incorporated KERS for the first time, bringing it in line with Caterham, which introduced the power-enhancing technology last season, but Abiteboul is confident that his squad can close the gap as it brings developments to the green-and-gold machines.
“Clearly, we see most of the developments that we did over the last year, the last twelve months, we think they made two-thirds of the difference over the last twelve months and only one-third over the winter,” he noted, “And, of that one-third, only half is coming from KERS, so I think that we have a real chance to be optimistic. Some good stuff is happening in the windtunnel, and we want to make sure this is translating into reality in Bahrain.”
Talk in the Sepang paddock this weekend has included stories of a possible merger between the two back-of-the-field teams, but Abiteboul confirmed that it was a non-starter.
“I think we provided a comment – both Marussia and ourselves – regarding the fact that there have been some discussions over the Christmas period but, clearly, I think we all know the business, we all know F1, and we know that it's quite a fluid and versatile environment,” he said, “To be honest, I'm not that old and, since I've been in F1, I think I've maybe heard ten times about mergers, including four big names, so there is nothing very big in that. We looked at that, we looked at whether it was making any sense, it didn't make any sense, it didn't happen. End of story.”
As a result, Caterham and Marussia will again lock horns at the back of the pack in Malaysia, and Abiteboul admitted that he was hoping for a better result on 'home' soil.
“It's looking pretty much similar to the last weekend in the sense that it's going to be on the edge with Marussia,” he concluded, “I think the utilisation of tyres and driver mistakes also can make a difference, so this is what we are getting ready for. We are going to have our shareholders present, so we want to make sure we have a good show.”