LONDON (Reuters) - Caterham’s new owners aim to keep the struggling team in Formula One for years to come but tough decisions must be made for that to happen, the man overseeing the transition has warned.
Former F1 team principal Colin Kolles, who has been brought in as an “adviser” but is seen as the key figure calling the shots behind the scenes, told Reuters in an interview that he had a clear plan.
“I think we have made a lot of progress. There will be more changes, more things to be done. I prefer to have 200 safe jobs than 300 lost jobs,” said the 46-year-old Romanian-born German.
“Sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions. But believe me, I think certain people know and understand that changes have to be done and that it cannot continue like this. It’s impossible.”
Caterham were handed over by Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes - who had threatened before the start of the season to walk away if the team did not improve - to a mystery group of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors days before last weekend’s British Grand Prix.
Kolles said they were “private individuals from the Middle East with Swiss connections.” Formula One’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters separately he had no idea who they were.
Kolles is advising newly-installed team principal Christijan Albers, the Dutch former F1 driver he has worked closely with, despite sacking him from the Spyker team in 2007.
Some changes were evident at Silverstone with branding associated with Fernandes’ AirAsia airline stripped off the cars, even if there had been no time to replace team apparel.
The General Electric logo that had been prominent went, along with Airbus and a string of Fernandes-owned businesses.
Kolles said only paying partners remained on the cars - one of them mobile company Truphone whose investors include Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
“I am not here as a charity. What you see there is reality,” he shrugged.
The German, who steered the former Jordan team through various incarnations as Midland, Spyker and then Force India as well as taking the helm at now-defunct HRT, said Caterham was debt-free as a company.
”A lot has been resolved within three days. We still have creditors to sort out, who are normal trade creditors. This is what we are trying to do. To bring everything to calm waters.
“The team should be there for many more years. This is the target,” he added.
”It’s not a question of surviving or not surviving. I think the team will survive. The question is at what level? It’s not only about sorting out creditors.
“In parallel you have to put it financially straight, you have to restructure the whole company because it is a mess and you have to put upgrades on the car and find the best performing driver/car package.”
Germany-based Kolles said the Renault-powered team, who have never scored a point since their debut in 2010 as Lotus Racing, would remain at their Leafield factory in the UK, formerly home of the failed Arrows and Super Aguri teams, “for the moment”.
As far as the driver line-up was concerned, the situation remained uncertain. Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi and Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson joined at the start of 2014 with funding a pre-requisite.
”In terms of performance we have to look into this. And we are looking into this,“ said Kolles. ”I don’t want to spread rumours around because it makes no sense.
“I had meetings with the management and drivers. I think I am always transparent. The last driver I sacked out of Formula One was Christijan Albers. And he’s my team principal. This should give you a taste of how I deal with people.”
Kolles remains involved through his German company with the Romanian-backed future “Forza Rossa” entry which is hoping to come into the sport in future.
He rejected a suggestion he could asset-strip Caterham for the benefit of the other outfit or fold the two into one.
”This is a Malaysian company, running under a Malaysian flag currently. It has nothing to do with the Romanian project,“ he said. ”It’s difficult to change the name and to change a company which is registered in Malaysia and bring it to Romania.
“This company (1Malaysia Racing Team) has the entry and you cannot transfer this. If that company no longer exists you lose the entry. The entry is related not to a name but a company number.”
Kolles, who kept a low profile at Silverstone and spoke inside the team hospitality, said he was focused only on putting the team on a sound footing.
“I am still a similar person to the one 10 years ago. I haven’t changed completely. There will be certain things that are the same and certain things that are for sure optimised or better. Maybe worse, I don’t know,” he smiled.
“This mission will be successful. It’s a hard mission but it has to be successful.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tony Goodson.