Caterham boss warns he could quit F1

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IOL mot pic jan22 F1 Caterham Kobayachi

AFP

Tony Fernandes says there would be no point carrying on if the team remains uncompetitive. Picture: Prakash Singh

Leafield, England - Caterham owner Tony Fernandes warned on Tuesday that he could walk away from Formula One unless his tail-end team showed significant improvement this season.

The Malaysian entrepreneur told reporters at the Caterham factory that there would be no point carrying on if the team remained uncompetitive.

"If we are at the back, I don't think we're going to carry on," he said.

"After five years and to get no points, there's a limit to everyone's patience, money etc," added Fernandes, who will have two new drivers this year in Japan's Kamui Kobayashi and Sweden's Marcus Ericsson.

Caterham came into the sport as Lotus Racing with two other new teams in 2010 when a budget cap was talked about and then abandoned. None has scored points in four seasons, and Spanish-based HRT folded at the end of 2012 and Caterham finished last of the 11 remaining Formula One teams in 2013.

"The sport has to examine itself."

Formula One, said Fernandes, was too predictable, too expensive, not exciting enough and with insufficient chances for underdogs to create an upset.

"I think if we are going to every race and are not competing, two seconds behind everyone else, then we haven't made any progress," added the Malaysian, a fervent believer in the need for a cost cap.

"If we are not competing then we have got to seriously examine ourselves as to whether this makes sense."

Fernandes said, however, that his words were not to be taken as an ultimatum and he was making a statement of intent because he believed Caterham would make the required progress at a time of huge technical change.

"I am saying these things with the confidence that I think we will deliver," he said. "I would not be here otherwise. But I am also being real that if we don't, I don't think anyone in this office expects us to carry on being last.

"But we are fairly confident that we should see some progress."

The sport is introducing a new V6 turbocharged engine this season, replacing the old V8, and reliability is a major concern - opening up the possibility that smaller teams could score points if others suffer failures.

"Me walking away would make a fairly large dent to the team, without sounding egotistical," Fernandes said of the impact his departure would have.

"But we have got to see progress. It's the same for AirAsia. If AirAsia was still a two-plane operation and losing tons of money every year, you'd have to say 'Er, what's the point of carrying on guys?'."

"We've got a chance now."

Fernandes felt sure Kobayashi, a fan-pleasing driver who last raced in Formula One in 2012 when he finished third in his home Japanese Grand Prix with Sauber, was just the man to shake up the team.

The former sushi chef, he said, had offered to drive for Catarham for no salary and pay the team more than $1 million (R18 million) raised from fans through online donations.

Kobayachi confirmed: "We paid with my Japanese fans' donations and I have to really thank them; I think I could not get this seat without them.

"I don't care about money - I just want to drive. I want to be a success in my life and bring the team that success.

Kobayashi, the only current Japanese F1 driver, set up a website in 2012 to get him back on the grid at a time when more and more teams were looking for drivers with financial backing.

BIT OF SPARK

But Fernandes insisted money was not the issue.

"Whether I get a million, half a million or save two million, in the scheme of things makes no difference when you are talking about $130 million (R1.4 billion) budgets," he said.

"We thought Kamui would maybe bring that little bit of spark. Something you can't quantify, but that motivates the rest of the 250 people to say, 'We've got a warrior who is going to go in there and do whatever to move this team on'.

"That's the main reason we've taken him. We've seen on the track, it's well-documented that he goes for it. My message in signing him is to tell the people we've got to go for it. This is it."

Fernandes said there were also business advantages in signing Kobayashi, with an Asian-owned team having an Asian driver and possibly bringing in some new backers.

Even then, it was the driver's fighting spirit that stood out and changed his mind after he had previously been on the verge of bringing back Finland's Heikki Kovalainen.

"There's something in his eyes. He was hungry," he said of the Japanese who had a few rough edges in his time at Sauber but thrilled fans with his daring and eagerness to at least try and overtake. "And I want everyone in this team to be hungry.

"It might be a disaster in some races but I'd rather die trying than not try."

Reuters


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