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

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 18/11/2014
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