Will Gray

Team by team previews: Caterham

Will Gray

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After two building years, this is the season that Caterham (previously Lotus) must finally attach themselves to the back of the midfield pack — but the chances of doing so are still under review.

The first car out the box this season, Caterham's new car launch was clearly trying to make the point that the team are more organised, more professional and more ambitious about their campaign than ever before.

They talked it up last year, however, and fall well short of Mike Gascoyne's ambitious aims of leading the midfield come season end.

So is there anything to suggest this time will be a different story?

TECHNICAL TEAM

The car layout looks up to the grade but it is the backroom staff changes that give most credential to early positivity from the team's Hethel headquarters this year.

Gascoyne has led well for two years, overseeing activities in the pit lane and back at base, but the arrival of Mark Smith nine months ago added a top-line designer to the armoury.

Too late to majorly affect the 2011 car, Smith has been focused on the 2012 assault — and with Gascoyne now moving from technical F1 chief to overall Caterham Group CTO, it will now be in the hands of Smith to take his new machine from the drawing board to the track.

This, however, could go one of two ways. Smith has penned a long list of successful cars but he has not yet been the man in control at the track.

While Gascoyne will be there at times, the loss of his edgy approach on pit wall as an aggressive decision maker could hold back what is likely to be a very tidy car.

On top of that, the team's move to Leafield to bring the car and racing operations together will undoubtedly be unsettling. McLaren struggled when they moved into MTC, and they had far more resources to cope with it.

THE CAR

The team have progressively improved their car designs year on year, with the clunky first effort in 2010 making way for a much sleeker machine in 2011.

The 2012 car still looks a bit bulky in the sidepod and rear area compared with other potential midfield runners, but it is certainly another step change in the bloodline.

The biggest opportunity of the season for the team, however, comes from the 2012-spec Red Bull KERS unit, which they will run for the first time as an expansion of the gearbox deal they have to work alongside the Renault engine.

The boost of around 0.4s should jump the gap between them and the midfield — while the driveability and added strategic options it offers could help in the tight midfield battles, if they get there.

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DRIVERS

It is a shame that former winner Jarno Trulli will not get to race it, having been dropped in favour of pay driver Vitaly Petrov a few days after hailing his only run in the new car his 'best ever first test'.

Petrov proved himself as a podium finisher last year, but he was also plagued with errors, big and small. Success with the 'second' car will, therefore, depend very much on which Petrov turns up.

As for the team leader, it's hard to remember Heikki Kovalainen as team-mate to Lewis Hamilton at McLaren before he was replaced by Jenson Button.

That's some time ago now, but the Finn feels he is back in the groove and if he gets a car to show as much, the points could finally come and the next step for Caterham will be successfully achieved.

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