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Caterham: Heikki's been great for us

22 September 2012

Caterham owner Tony Fernandes has admitted that he is keen to retain Heikki Kovalainen next season, despite reports linking the Finn to a number of seats higher up the F1 grid.

Kovalainen joined Fernandes' F1 dream at the start back in 2010 and has remained loyal through the legal battles that eventually saw Team Lotus become Caterham F1, but his performances have been such that he has become a common factor in discussions surrounding the future occupant of seats at Ferrari [see separate story], McLaren, Sauber and, ironically, the 'other' Lotus. Although the most recent speculation suggests that the fluid driver market may not actually yield too many moves [see separate story], Fernandes admits that he will seek to retain the Finn's services.

"We will have to have a discussion at some point and we also have options on that front," the Malaysian revealed, confirming Kovalainen's claim that talks could take place this weekend, "I would like Heikki to stay - very much. He's been great for us over the last three-and-a-half years, [so] we'll have to sit down and decide where we go from here."

Fernandes has been a busy man in recent weeks, perhaps suggesting why talks have not yet taken place, with his airline business and interest in QPR football club combining with Caterham F1's move to new facilities at Leafield to occupy his time. The relocation, however, is key to both the team and wider Caterham ambitions, according to the owner.

"I think, over the next few months, details will evolve as to what we're planning," Fernandes confirmed, "It's not a hidden secret that I got into F1 to manufacture cars. Lotus was my initial objective, which went spectacularly wrong in many ways, shape or forms, but the ambition and the vision is still the same, and Leafield will play a part in that vision.

"The brand may have changed, but the vision and the idea of what we're trying to put together still exists. I think we are putting all the infrastructure in place to have a reasonable F1 team. We have a reasonable car now, we just have to optimise it as much as possible. I think we've got some good people together, we're in a facility in a location which attracts other people into it, plus, with our other two divisions, it will all come together. I think in the next few months you will see some clarity as to what we're trying to achieve."

The team took another step towards its goal with the appointment of former Renault man Cyril Abiteboul as CEO, a move which confused some but which Fernandes sees as crucial to the bigger picture.

"I think we're evolving into a little bit of an auto group, with the cars division and technology division that we've put together, which Riad [Asmat] is looking at," he explained, "I am not as involved, so the team needs leadership. Cyril has been someone that I've courted for a while and we've finally persuaded him - with Renault's blessing - to come over to Caterham. It provides us with a [leader] for the F1 team going forward."

Abiteboul will not assume the mantle of team principal just yet, however, as Fernandes admits that he will continue in that role for the time being, but does not rule out handing over the position in the future.


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