Motorsport

Published: Thursday July 3, 2014 MYT 12:37:41 AM
Updated: Thursday July 3, 2014 MYT 1:10:53 AM

Fernandes sells Caterham team and quits F1

LONDON (Reuters) - Malaysian aviation entrepreneur Tony Fernandes ended an unhappy Formula One adventure on Wednesday by selling his struggling Caterham team to a group of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors with former driver Christijan Albers at the helm.

The team announced in a statement ahead of Sunday's British Grand Prix that they would continue to race as Caterham, from their existing factory at Leafield in central England, for the immediate future.

Dutch retired driver Albers, who competed in 46 grands prix with tail-end teams between 2005 and 2007, will take over the day-to-day running of the team with the assistance of Manfredi Ravetto.

Albers replaces the departing Cyril Abiteboul, who was appointed principal by Fernandes at the end of 2012 when the AirAsia boss decided to step back and focus on other business interests.

Caterham said Romanian-born Colin Kolles, who was Albers' principal when the Dutchman drove for the Midland and Spyker teams that became Force India, has been advising the consortium.

The sale ended a costly and ultimately failed foray into motor racing for Fernandes, whose main sporting interests have increasingly become focussed on his Premier League football side Queens Park Rangers.

Fernandes has been noticeable by his absence from racetracks this year and he heralded the end of his involvement when he closed down his Twitter account last week with the words "F1 hasn't worked".

He entered Formula One in 2010 with Lotus Racing, one of three new teams that had been encouraged to join by then FIA president Max Mosley with the promise of a budget cap to level the playing field.

The budget cap never happened and success was also elusive for Fernandes, whose team changed name to Team Lotus after a legal dispute action with the carmaker of that name and then became Caterham.

In four and a half seasons they have failed to score a single point, making them the only team on the current grid still in that predicament, and this season has seen the car no more competitive.

Marussia, who came in as Virgin Racing at the same time and finished 10th and ahead of Caterham in the championship last year, picked up two points in Monaco in May.

Fernandes had warned before the season started that he was losing patience and would walk away without clear signs of improvement and his decision to sell shows that that was no empty threat.

He had also been critical of F1's failure to introduce the sweeping cost-cutting measures that smaller teams have called for, and the lack of progress at a recent meeting would not have helped.

TOO EXPENSIVE

In January, after announcing Japan's Kamui Kobayashi and Sweden's Marcus Ericsson as his drivers, he said F1 was too predictable, too expensive and not exciting enough with insufficient chances for underdogs to surprise.

Kolles, who most recently ran the now-defunct Spanish-owned HRT team, is an expert at keeping small teams afloat against the odds, while Albers spent his F1 career at minnows Minardi, Midland and then Spyker between 2005 and 2007.

Ravetto was previously at HRT with Kolles.

"We are aware of the huge challenge ahead of us given the fight at the bottom end of the championship and our target now is to aim for 10th place in the 2014 championship," Albers said in the statement.

"We are very committed to the future of the team and we will ensure that the team has the necessary resources to develop and grow and achieve everything it is capable of."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin,; Editing by David Goodman and Stephen Wood)

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