Is this the end for Caterham's F1 squad?

Kobayashi Caterham

Caterham owner Tony Fernandes gave his team a clear ultimatum at the launch of their 2014 car: make significant improvements this season or it’ll be your last.

When Caterham entered F1 in 2010 they looked to be the best of the three new outfits joining the sport. All the elements for growth were in place: a fast, experienced driver line-up in Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen; solid leadership from Fernandes and technical boss Mike Gascoyne; and healthy investment from the owner and his Malaysian partners.

But having plateaued in 2011 and '12 they took a step back in 2013 by finishing bottom of the constructors’ standings. While their long-time rivals Marussia seemed to be making progress, Caterham were standing still.

And so Fernandes - who made his fortune in the airline business and also owns Queens Park Rangers Football Club - decided it was time to lay down the law.

"If we're at the back [this year] I don't think I'm going to carry on," he revealed at the launch of the 2014 car in January.

"Nothing is set in stone but after five years with no points there is a limit to one's patience, money, motivation, etc, so it's an important year.

"I need to feel like we're going somewhere. If I feel we can compete, then great but if we're not competing then we have to seriously examine ourselves and ask 'does this make sense?'

"If we're not competing, two seconds behind everybody else, then we haven't made any progress."

Unfortunately that is exactly where the team currently finds itself. Marussia’s points breakthrough in Monaco looks to have been another nail in the coffin, with reports emerging from Malaysia that Fernandes is looking to sell his team, as well as the Caterham automotive and engineering companies.

Not that Jules Bianchi’s ninth place on Sunday was a huge influence; results this year already suggested Fernandes was unlikely to hang around.

He was said to want £350 million for the group, though whether anyone would be interested in buying them all is unclear. Perhaps the F1 team would take someone’s fancy, but they may not wish to add a small sports car manufacturer and a composites company to their collection. That could prove problematic.

And that is assuming that anyone wants to take control of the team in the first place. Caterham’s first four seasons in F1 have yielded no points and they have slipped back relative to Marussia; that’s not the most attractive proposition for buyers. If they have made no progress in four years (and counting) why would a buyer feel they could change things? The £350 million price tag would be small beer compared with the finances it would take to make the team competitive.

These rumours prompted Fernandes to release a statement this week in which he said he was "wholly committed to the Caterham brand." He continued:

"We are constantly challenging ourselves and making decisions on everything from the structure to projects within the Group. That is normal business. That does not mean we are selling."

That should assuage some short-term worries, but it remains feasible that if he cannot find new investment Fernandes will cut his losses. There’s money to be recouped by simply selling off the assets, not to mention the financial relief of no longer paying a few hundred staff and running a global race team.

Essentially, shutting up shop may be his best course of action.

Which would be a shame. Not because of anything they’ve done on track lately, but because Caterham is a hard-working team staffed by good people; it would not be pleasant for anyone to see them out of work.

Of course, Fernandes has every right to do as he wishes with his investment, and he cannot be blamed for pulling the plug after such a long time without results. But that wouldn’t make it any less disappointing to see the green cars disappear from F1 for good at the end of the season.