Caterham face 'absolutely key' few weeks in fight for survival, says administrator
Finbarr O’Connell meeting with three interested parties during Abu Dhabi weekend; Team back on grid with skeleton staff and insist no concerns over safety of CT05 cars
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 24/11/14 3:17pm
Caterham administrator Finbarr O’Connell has labelled the next few weeks “absolutely key” for the team’s chances of surviving in its current form as he prepares to meet with three different groups of would-be investors at the Abu Dhabi GP.
The Leafield-based outfit, which went into administration last month, have managed to stage an unlikely return to the grid for this weekend’s season-ending round, with their ambitious crowdfunding scheme having raised nearly £2 million inside a fortnight.
But while the team may be back on the grid after a two-race absence, their chances of surviving the winter and re-emerging under new ownership next season remain in the balance.
Speaking to Sky Sports News HQ on his first day in an F1 paddock on Thursday, joint administrator Connell, who is also serving as interim Team Principal, stressed how time was running out for a buyer to come forward.
“If it is to be bought and to continue to run in exactly the way it is being run now, I think the next few weeks are absolutely key because the employees will all be beginning to drift away and there will no longer be a cohesive team like there is now,” he told Craig Slater.
“So I’m putting pressure on prospective purchasers to act in that small timeframe.
“But there’s also a timeframe of people who actually want to start up a Formula 1 team who may acquire the building, the equipment and begin again. That could happen over the next few months but it’s not so good from the employees’ point of view who will probably go on and do other things and they may come back later on.”
O’Connell revealed that the number of interested parties he was meeting in Abu Dhabi had increased by one to three, with an unnamed “large corporation” among them.
“They [the meetings] haven’t taken place as yet, in fact it’s increased,” he said.
“I’m meeting two families who are based in the Middle East who I think, because we’re here, are particularly interested to come and see me, and also one large corporation who I think would be a really good fit if they do acquire it,” he said.
He explained that the administrators were looking for prospective buyers that had sufficient funds to give the team a longer-term future.
“It is about what they invest rather than the price tag. The price tag will get them into Formula 1 – the big thing then is the ongoing costs," O’Connell explained.
“At this end of the grid it’s probably £70 million a year of costs that you have to cover so only people who know they can cover that, either through sponsorship, driver sponsorship or these motor companies effectively can use it for R&D or for marketing, it’s those sort of entities that we’re looking at.”
O’Connell explained that while his hitherto discussions with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had centered on simply getting the team and their remaining skeleton staff out to Abu Dhabi in the first place, he hoped to take part in the latest round of meetings involving F1’s struggling smaller teams who are arguing for a more even split of the sport’s revenues. He suggested that, as an outsider, he could even offer some advice.
“The discussions up to now have been with actually getting here [to Abu Dhabi] and helping me to get here," he said. “Until I actually got here, conversations about Caterham’s place in the small team group haven’t really taken off as yet.
“There is a small team group meeting coming up and I’m hoping I’m going to be invited in to that. As I’m an outsider as well and I specialise in actually fixing things and getting businesses up and running and restructured, maybe I can bring a new angle or new view on that whole side.”
And despite speculation that Caterham are short on spare parts, O’Connell declared he was "absolutely confident we’re safe" and suggested the fact they had not raced since mid-October had allowed them to get both their CT05s in perfect shape to race.
The cars will be driven this weekend by Kamui Kobayashi and British debutant Will Stevens, whose deal to race was confirmed on Thursday.