Caterham F1 team principal Cyril Abiteboul has admitted that the Leafield squad is facing a potential wall in its bid to catch and pass Marussia for the vital tenth spot in this year's constructors' championship.
Despite once again being touted as the year in which Caterham finally makes the leap to becoming a regular midfield contender, 2013 has seen the team struggling to keep pace with a rejuvenated Marussia operation, with rookie Jules Bianchi having given the Banbury minnow the edge over its green-and-gold rival in five of the season's seven races so far.
Since Bahrain, the battle has been a bit more even, with the first real upgrades to the CT03 having had the effect of closing the gap between the teams, but Abiteboul concedes that the car's lineage may make it difficult to make the bigger changes it needs to vault ahead of its rival.
“Our infrastructure and our resources do not allow us to change some of the fundamental and structural characteristics of a chassis that was designed in 2011, raced in 2012 and carried over in 2013,” he explained to the official F1 website, “But, as we saw in Bahrain, Spain and Monaco, by focusing on key performance differentiators of the car - the aero package - there are clear signs of progress this year.
“This pragmatic strategy is allowing us to balance the resources we have on the work we can do to keep improving 2013 against the 2014 project, but we have a plan and we're confident it will pay dividends in the long run. We compete in a championship that lasts nearly ten months and we'll judge ourselves at the end of the season, not seven races in.”
Despite owner Tony Fernandes' investment in Caterham, the squad remains one of the smallest in F1, and Abiteboul is quick to dismiss suggestions that the team has fallen behind its own expectations and is expecting better results as the year goes on.
“I'm not going to make any predictions about where we'll be after either the next six races or at the end of the year, but we have new parts coming for nearly every race this year, so we're doing what we can to keep fighting and keep learning about ourselves,” he revealed, “We have to balance that against the need to ramp up our 2014 work, but we can manage that and I'm sure there will be races that suit our car where we can show more clear progress, and I'm also afraid there will be more races like Canada where we don't do ourselves justice. Whatever happens, we must make sure to learn, and improve, like we are doing right now from the difficulties we had in Montreal.”
Battles with the likes of Toro Rosso, Sauber, Force India and Williams have been few and far between in 2013 – despite the latter having a similarly bare cupboard when it comes to points – but the Frenchman insists that progress continues to be made with the CT03.
“In comparison to the teams ahead, Mark [Smith] leads a relatively small and young, but talented, design office team who are working incredibly hard to help us make progress,” he pointed out, “[But] Marussia have been doing a great job over the past 18 months, and I am sure the battle will be very exciting between our two teams, and maybe also with a couple of the ones ahead.