Caterham team principal Cyril Abiteboul insists that there are no plans to tamper with his driver line-up, despite fielding one of the most inexperienced combinations in F1.
With only back-of-the-grid rival Marussia boasting a pairing with fewer races under their belt – courtesy of rookies Jules Bianchi
and Max Chilton
– Caterham is relying heavily on the single season Charles Pic
accrued with the Banbury team in 2012, but Abiteboul says that it is not yet time to assess how the Frenchman and new team-mate Giedo van der Garde are faring, despite feeling the need to draft comparative veteran Heikki Kovalainen
in to help with the development of this year's CT03.
“Heikki was brought back to help us evaluate the hybrid car against the new 2013 package, to use his experience to corroborate what Charles and Giedo were telling us about the car and, more importantly, compare it to last year's car, which is obviously known well by all of us,” the team boss told the official F1 website.
“We've invested a lot in Heikki since the first days of the team and the opportunity was there to bring him back in to help us this year. With the sort of experience he has, we'd have been foolish not to use what he can bring, and he definitely helped in the couple of sessions he ran, and in the feedback he gave.”
Kovalainen's presence, initially in the Caterham garage at Sepang, and then in the cockpit of the CT03 in both Bahrain and Barcelona, set tongues wagging about a possible change in the race line-up, but Abiteboul appears happy to continue with Pic and van der Garde, despite his squad trailing a rejuvenated Marussia in terms of results.
“Same as with the team, I'd like to evaluate both drivers properly at the right moment but, for now, I think both are making progress in parallel,” he noted, “They're contrasting characters and that's good in the garage - Charles is more reserved than Giedo but with each race he's growing in confidence and showing real signs of maturity, particularly with tyre management and racecraft. I'd like to see much more from him in quali - his performance in Bahrain was his best of the year and he absolutely nailed one lap when it counted - but that will come with experience.”
While many assume that former GP2 frontrunner van der Garde is only in the team – after several years of attempting to break through the sport's glass ceiling into the top flight - because of the financial backing he brings, Abiteboul is encouraged by what he has seen from the Dutchman over the majority of the seven races so far.
“For Giedo, it's been the tough start to the season he expected, but he too is showing real signs of development, despite having a disappointing last race in Montreal,” he reflected, acknowledging van der Garde's fraught Canadian Grand Prix, “This is his first full season in F1 and he was very honest when he talked about his early season goals. The first few races were all about learning, taking in everything that a driver has to deal with - not just over a race weekend but throughout a whole season - and then starting to have the confidence to show what he can do once he'd had a few races to develop.
“In Bahrain, he was back on a track he knew and he went well there, then even better in Spain and better still in Monaco. He was one of the stars of qualifying in Monaco and you have to have real confidence and outright speed to be quick there, so hearing him make the call to switch to slicks on a still damp Monaco track was good. It showed he's finding his place in F1 and while he and the whole team have a long way to go, he's getting there.
“But, as Montreal showed, there is absolutely no room for loss of focus in F1 and we need to continue working with him on a few areas; blue flag management and tyre management being the key ones right now.”
Kovalainen notwithstanding, there are others who will be knocking at the door when it comes to filling the team's seats in 2014, courtesy of its Racing Academy programme. While Spaniard Sergio Canamasas gets his first taste of F1 later this week, with a straight-line test in France on Thursday, the prime candidate for promotion will be American Alexander Rossi, who is showing strongly as part of Caterham's GP2 arm and has already run during Friday free practice with the F1 team. The former WSbR frontrunner's nationality may also play a part, as Caterham entertains several US-based partners, notably General Electric, Dell and CNN.