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Exclusive: Concern over Caterham parts safety


A former Caterham employee has expressed concern regarding the team's attitude towards safety ahead of the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

In the days since all 230 staff at the F1 team were made redundant, Pitpass has heard from many, each with their own tale and almost all pointing the finger squarely at former owner Tony Fernandes.

However, amidst the various accusations and warnings, one email in particular stood out, that claiming that there will be "unsafe spare parts on the cars running at Abu Dhabi".

Today we spoke to the former employee whose name, and position at Caterham, we are unable to disclose for obvious reasons.

"What has been happening recently is that we've been salvaging certain parts,” our source began. “For example, if you take a wishbone assembly, which is made up of many different parts, not just the carbonfibre part, which was at the centre of the Kamui Kobayashi episode (in Russia), whereby that had been repaired at the track using a wet lay technique which is something you wouldn't normally do.

“That raised a lot of eyebrows at the time including one mechanic who walked away whilst it was going on, saying 'I don't want to be part of this, if you're putting that on the car I'm going back to the hotel', and he left and walked away. That's how seriously he took it.”

In the wake of the Russian Grand Prix, Kobayashi took to Facebook. "Scary!" he wrote, referring to the repairs that had been carried out to his car on Friday night following the opening practice sessions. "Last night a suspension defect was found. There's no spare so it was repaired by wrapping it in carbon. It's checked all the time but, even so, being asked to race like this is too scary! I want to go home already”.

"From here on there are still practices and the race to go," he added. “I'm seriously troubled. As a racing driver, should I drive? Should I safely decline? I drive again in 15 minutes…"

The Japanese driver retired from the race after just 21 laps, initially suggesting that the team had effectively ordered him to stop in an attempt to save mileage, i.e. money, however, by the time the post-race press release was issued it appeared the 28-year-old had been suffering a brake issue.

"When you have a crashed car," our source, who has been in motorsport for many years and worked at all levels, continued, "you've got a broken wishbone, it's got other parts on it that make up the assembly.

"What they've got on that car now, " he continued, referring to the Caterham, "is a lot of parts, such as the wishbone assembly, that have been made up of salvaged parts, such as other wishbone assemblies, that have no history, no lifeing history on them. So, you can have a brand new wishbone, straight out of the mould, made from carbonfibre, and you can then take another wishbone from your quarantined stock, one which was in a fire for instance, and then take all the metal parts off that. Visually, they look fine, they're made from titanium, they've been in a fire, they look fine, you rescue them from the crashed wishbone and then make up a new assembly which then has a life from new.

"In effect, a lot of those parts will have been put on late at night, when there is no inspection, no NDT (non destructive testing), ultrasonic or crack testing available, so basically you're taking parts off a crashed assembly, putting them on to a new assembly and giving them a life from new.

"That this was going on was common knowledge," says our source. "If you were running your own F3 team, yes, you'd do that sort of thing, but this is F1. If this was Red Bull the parts would be in the bin, they wouldn't even be put on the 'just in case shelf’, they would have been destroyed and binned as soon as their life was up, regardless of whether they were damaged or not. Remember, the whole object of the lifeing system is that when something is out of life it's no longer usable... unless, you have a set of processes of inspection and testing by which you can then relife it."

With all 230 staff made redundant last weekend, it is unclear exactly who will comprise the crew that Caterham takes to Abu Dhabi, such was the culture of fear at Leafield in the final weeks that workers were unwilling to share information and it is the possibility of outsiders (or “the chosen few”) being brought in that further worries our source.

"At the moment without that knowledge, without the authority, without the experience and without the rigorous testing..." he trails off, leaving the thought hanging.

All of which makes a bit of a mockery of reports today that Caterham might struggle to get a 2015 chassis up and running anytime soon... we hear that while the chassis is at the initial pattern stage, the team hadn't even started making the mould.

Chris Balfe


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1. Posted by Paul C, 21/11/2014 2:40

"Restrict the Caterhams to display car status. Let Sauber get Marussia'a points."

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2. Posted by petes, 18/11/2014 21:58

"@MrShadow - I'm trying to understand something.....
There are sites out there reporting things F1 that clearly say Caterham's competing At AbDab does not automatically give them any reward i.e. monetary benefit. I suspect this is correct.

They're presently tied in 11th place with Sauber.
Marussia's absence doesn't automatically move Sauber/Caterham up the scale. If neither of those teams score any constructors points this round, the status quo continues.

Appreciate 'nothing ventured' etc, etc; seems all just pie in the sky?

I also have an idea I have previously read somewhere that having missed out on money for season's results 2013 (which they did) any 10th place result for Caterham season 2014, won't bring them any gain before end of season 2015?

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3. Posted by kiwi2wheels, 18/11/2014 21:48

"After reading this , I don't think I'd want to fly on an Air Asia plane...................."

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4. Posted by Hondawho?, 18/11/2014 21:23

"Mr Shadow, sounds as if there could be some "administrator cooperation " perhaps? Heaven forbid is that legal LOL!
Have you ever heard of an Insolvency practioner losing out? Whenever there is money there are those who know how to find it!

Loads of assets in both teams, I just hope Snr O'Connell is an honourable man? "

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5. Posted by MrShadow, 18/11/2014 20:27

"The administrators are aware that if Marussia does not compete in Abu Dhabi, their place is lost and Caterham receives the 10th place constructors rewards which will save any interested party a lot of money. Someone with actual knowledge of F1 is involved there."

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6. Posted by Hondawho?, 18/11/2014 20:09

"May I say please, considering there are a number of forums about F1, I would like to thank Pit Pass for creating a realistic and useable forum. Despite some of the comments from the manager of F1, I think this site has and continues to report and handle the issues with respect and sincerity for all who contribute from Mr E down and I hope this lasts until as Mr E says "we will overcome this phase" in the sport and move forward. Well done. "

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7. Posted by ape, 18/11/2014 20:09

"Hmm strange remark that there is a difference in safety between F3 and F1."

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8. Posted by Hondawho?, 18/11/2014 19:59

"This is a real shame and one can only hope the scrutineers will pick this up and if they do then someone needs to held to account. As for being an "elaborate ploy" well I think F1 is full of such tactics and if it helps the creditors which include the staff one would hope, then better in their pockets than CVC. I hope they compete and race well, but, if it's about the so be it."

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9. Posted by Pika, 18/11/2014 18:13

"One would assume Kobayashi would not sit in a car anymore if concerned about safety and there must be regulations, and if mechanics are walking away if something is not by a book than this article must have been sourced by angry individual."

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10. Posted by PeterMann, 18/11/2014 17:21

"One hopes those at the track in authority / responsible for scrutineering / in charge of safety will be aware of Caterham's recent history, especially in regard to the race-worthiness of the team's cars, and be ultra-picky before the cars turn a wheel in anger."

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11. Posted by ffracer, 18/11/2014 16:37

"And as such, these cars should never pass scrutineering. And If they do, then they will barely practice, skip qualifying to fill the last two spots and then be parked after 2 race laps.

All an elaborate ploy to get the multi-million dollar payout for the creditors..."

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