I've been critical of Caterham (previously Lotus) on a number of occasions and most recently I basically gave them a "must do better" rating if I wasn't to put them into the same category as HRT and Marussia.
Since their inception they have distanced themselves from those two teams and marketed themselves as "other": i.e.being the only one of the new teams to actually have the potential to pull themselves up into the midfield pack and challenge for points.
Just as I was beginning to despair they arrived in Valencia and, in free practice sessions, regularly outpaced the two Toro Rosso's (who I feel are beginning to slide backwards towards the back three).
In qualifying Heikki made it into Quali 2 which was an amazing achievement, and then capped that off by out-qualifying the two Toro Rossos on merit.
I was over the moon and focused my attentions on the battle for the back of the midfield. Who was going to win the honours?
As it turned out the battle for position continued throughout the race and it was almost as if the Toro Rosso drivers had been told by their team not to allow themselves to be beaten by the Caterham "upstarts".
We saw it on Lap 26 first, with Vergne on a DRS fuelled overtaking charge past Heikki. Whether he was unsure of his rival's position on the track or not he pulled over to take up a racing line and drove into Heikki's front wing causing each of the cars a puncture, taking off Heikki's wing and damaging his own car beyond the "McGyver" abilities of his pit crew.
The first concern of any overtaking manoeuvre, whether on track or on the roads, is to ensure than you are completely in front of the car you have passed before you turn in. That's one of the primary purposes of your wing mirrors Jean-Eric - Halfway past is not past.
Still, up to that point Heikki was doing alright. Even though he'd lost two places at the start, to Ricciardo and Webber, he was pootling around in 17th up to his first pitstop, emerging in 21st and fighting back up to position before colliding with Vergne. The resultant stop saw him re-emerge in 21st. After that, as he said himself:
"From that point on I was just trying to get to the end of the race and with about 5 or 6 laps left the tyres were gone"
Verdict: Finished 14th.
Ifs, Ands, and Buts: If he'd had a clean getaway and been able to hold position on lap 1 And If the accident hadn't forced him into the pits early, which included replacing the front wing, Heikki could well have been slugging it out in front of Ricciardo in the closing stages for a solid and impressive 11th or 12th (maybe even a point). Improved performance from the team evident all weekend But unimpressed with Vergne's DRS manoeuvre.
Petrov was another who fell foul of the Toro Rosso approach to maintaining Fourth-last position. He too was doing pretty well in the race up until lap 46 when he fell foul of the overtaking Toro Rosso of Ricciardo.
Ricciardo stated that Vitaly pushed into him
"I went to get around him and he defended by going a bit wide, I tried to switch back and I feel I gave him some racing room, but we still made contact because perhaps his move was a bit too aggressive. That cost me the chance to get into the points"
From my armchair perspective it seemed like there was plenty of track on the outside of the Toro Rosso to allow him to avoid the Caterham and any move by Petrov looked relatively benign on the TV replay
We'd need to be able to do a Playstation replay from differing viewpoints to get any accurate idea as to fault, however from the above we'd have to call it on the basis that there was plenty of track available outside for Ricciardo.
There's no question but that Ricciardo had the pace on Petrov and Petrov was pretty gracious afterwards:
"I'm not sure a point was quite within reach today, but it's really encouraging to see how we've progressed here and we know we have more to come in Silverstone so we have something good to fight for"
Verdict: 13th place. Needs to conquer Qualifying.
Coulda's Shoulda's Woulda's: Coulda done better, Shoulda matched his teammate in Quali which Woulda given him a better platform to attack the Toro Rosso's which Coulda seen him luck into the Maldonado penalty point.
Overall I'm impressed with Caterham this Weekend. They've shown me, for the first time, that they really are committed to catching up to the Midfield. The problem for Caterham is that the Midfield, minus the Toro Rosso's, are catching up to the front.
Verdict: More to do. The goal of the season must be to consistently fight the Toro Rosso pairing and beat them regularly. Good Luck Caterham. I might say that I'm officially adopting you for the rest of the season. Please continue the good work.