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Tony Fernandes Talks Caterham Formula One

February 09, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 169

We are thrilled to be able to bring you an exclusive interview with Team Principal of Caterham F1 and Air Asia CEO, Tony Fernandes.

As Caterham prepare for their 3rd season in Formula One, we find out about Tony's views on so called 'pay drivers' and if they do indeed exist. We asked about the short and long term goals of Caterham F1 team and much more.

Caterham F1 (formally Team Lotus), have finished in tenth position in the championship for the past two seasons - they are also still seeking their first point. They've made giant steps in comparison to the other new teams, in fact towards the end of last season they managed to beat a number of midfield teams.

It's without doubt that many people already know Tony Fermandes, however a little background to the man behind Caterham F1 won't go amiss. Tony was born in April 1964, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was educated at Epsom College between 1977 and 1983, he then graduated from the London School of Economics in 1987. Tony then had a spell working for the Virgin Group, ending up as financial controller for Virgin Records, this was between 1987 and 1989.

A long way from running an F1 team and a huge airline, he was a chartered accountant (some say the most dull of professions - not my personal opinion of course). Following this, he returned to Malaysia and became the youngest MD of Warner Music. His involvement in music most likely came from a personal interest, he is an amateur guitarist and a grade 8 pianist.

In 2001, Tony met the Malaysian prime minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, who advised him to take over an existing airline rather than start a new one. That was the beginning of Air Asia as we know it today. At the point Tony took it over, it was losing money hand over fist. Tony has an eye for potential success and sunk every penny into this new venture. What made his Air Asia success more remarkable was that he began just after September 11th 2001, a time when no one wanted to fly. Tony modelled Air Asia on the worlds most successful 'no frills' airline, Ryan Air from Ireland. Air Asia went from strength to strength under the stewardship of Tony Fernandes.

Tony has various other business interests, such as Tune Hotels and English Premier League Club, Queens Park Rangers.

We jump now to the present and Caterham F1. Any formula one fan will know the story. In 2010, Tony Fermandes became Team Principal of new Formula One team 'Lotus Racing'. In their first season they managed to beat their immediate rivals, finishing ahead of the other two new teams. In the second season they finished in the same position, however this time they improved enough to challenge the midfield by the end of 2011.

Tony has assembled a top class team at Caterham F1, including the experienced Mike Gascoigne who has been in Formula One since 1989, when he worked at McLaren. Along with everyone at the factory and those at the track on race weekend, Caterham certainly have the ingredients to go to the very top one day.

Now it's time for the interview you've been waiting for. It may be short but it has some interesting insights into the mind of a hugely successful and intelligent man. Enjoy!

For the first 3 seasons you've kept the same drivers and have improved every season. I recently wrote an article on so called 'pay drivers', it seems you took the decision to go for talent rather than a financial package. In your opinion are purported 'pay drivers' good or bad for F1? And why?

That is an excellent question but I think one that needs rephrasing. From the earliest days of F1 there have been drivers who have been employed purely on their talent, and there have been drivers who have had the backing of a family, a company or very, very good friends! Today, there is not a 'pay driver' on the grid who is not also supremely talented, but I am not sure the same was true 50 years ago. The 21st century 'pay driver' is a very different proposition from his old-school counterpart, so I think it is somewhat unfair to use the term 'pay-driver' in 2012 - all the drivers on the grid now are incredibly fit, dedicated, brilliant racers - some have backing, some had a bit of luck that maybe the others didn't have early in their careers, but they are all light years ahead of us mere mortals in terms of their talent.

From the very early days of our team we decided to employ the two best drivers we could find, irrespective of what financial backing they had, and the pairing of Heikki and Jarno have repaid that investment in one very simple way - they raced the cars designed, built and maintained by the team into positions that earned us tenth place in our first two seasons, giving us Column One status with the financial rewards that brings. Neither of our drivers were, are or will be for a few seasons to come, in a position to win a drivers' title, so for us all our focus is on climbing up the constructor's championship. With that in mind, we have to continue to employ the best driving talent we can find, and we have to balance that against our financial resources. In the driver's market now there are people out there who are both talented and have financial backing, so for us not to consider those options would be bad business. Without a sound business plan the sport would fail, so for most of us on the grid, the 21st century pay driver is a good thing as they bring both talent and a revenue stream that otherwise would not exist.

I've predicted that you'll get some points this season, in fact I've said that you'll finish above Sauber. What is the likelihood of me being right?

I don't want to make any predictions about the season ahead, particularly if you are asking me to say we will beat one of the teams that has been established as long as Sauber. What I will say is that I want us to score a point. It is our third year, we made good progress in 2010 and 2011 and the natural next step is to score our first point. (Editor - I am sure you will, you deserve at least that) When we have done that let's see where we are, and who is around us.

What is the ultimate aim for Caterham F1?

Ultimately, many years down the line, it is to win championships. Until then, I want us to grow at a sustainable rate, remain open, honest and fan-friendly, shake up the establishment in the right areas, and love going racing. If we can do that the journey to ultimate success will be a happy one, and that is what really counts.

It's common knowledge that fighting to move up the grid is difficult. The front runners seem to come out with new ideas for upgrades. You then have to figure out what they did to gain some valuable tenths. Is it frustrating when this happens?

Not any more than any other team does. We don't spend our time worrying about what special bit has gone on the cars ahead as we are too focused on our own little family, but we do take a look at innovations that might make us quicker without diverting resources. However, I do think it is important to say that I think that 99% of the technical debates are an utter waste of time for the people who really count - the fans. One engineering team comes out with a brand new way around a grey area in the rules and then we all go off and spend time and money looking at it, but does it make the show any better for the fans? Did the double diffuser attract more viewers on TV? Did off-throttle blown diffusers make kids go to bed at night dreaming of becoming World Champion? No. I think that is an area the sport needs to look at to make sure we spend money on innovations that both improve the show, and, even more importantly, bring benefits to the wider global community. Energy recovery systems are a good thing - if we can help make automobiles more efficient then that is to be applauded, so let's focus the incredible minds we have access to on ideas that will provide wider benefits to all.

If you could have any 2 drivers from formula one's history, racing for Caterham F1, who would they be?

I'd like to see how Heikki Kovalainen fares against Mika Hakkinen. Two Finns would be, almost literally, cool.


I would personally like to thank Tony for his time. It has been a pleasure dealing with you. Good luck for the coming season.

Since this article was written, Caterham F1 have taken to the track in their 2012 car, the CT-01. They finished the first days testing with a time of 1:23.178 with Heikki Kovalainen at the wheel. Heikki had this to say about his first run in the new car, "We were first out on track this morning and the early feeling I had from the car was good. It's far too early to tell how much we've progressed but it already feels like we're going in the right direction." This seems like a good positive start to me.

Phil Woods is the author of many articles on Formula One, normally updated to his own F1 website Phil Woods is a published comedy author with his book looking at the funny side of language, the book is called 'Beat about the bush - the funny side or language'. Phil has been a fan of F1 for many years and is now turning that support into writing.

Source: EzineArticles
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