The 2013 season was shaping up to be a promising one for Marussia. This was to be the year they would finally design an F1 car using a wind tunnel and it fit it with a Kinetic Energy Recovery System – both significant steps forward for the team.
With a more competitive car allied to the experience of Timo Glock, Marussia looked like they were set for a decent season.
But as the new year the team decided the numbers didn’t add up and the salaried Glock would need to be replaced by a driver who could bring in funds.
Luiz Razia was originally offered the job but his time as an F1 driver last just 23 days of the off-season before his contract was terminated as the money failed to materialise.
Eventually the team appointed Jules Bianchi alongside Max Chilton, giving them an all-rookie line-up – the first time any team has had this since HRT fielded Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok three years ago.
Bianchi and Chilton have shown promise in the junior categories but no one would pretend that starting a season with two rookie drivers is how a team would choose to go racing.
The MR02 looks conventional but bulkier at the rear than even the midfield contenders, let alone the cars at the front of the grid. The team are now alone as the only Cosworth user but no longer have the disadvantage of being without KERS.
In a major improvement from last year, the team not only made it to pre-season testing but appeared at all three sessions and got a decent amount of work done, though circumstances dictated that Chilton did most of it.
“Although certain aspects of our winter were quite challenging, the overwhelming feeling we take into the Australian Grand Prix is great optimism,” said team principal John Booth.
“In many ways we are in our best shape ever as a team and everyone is thriving on that and looking forward to what we hope will be a positive 19-race journey ahead. Our new package has performed well in pre-season testing, with encouraging signs in terms of performance and reliability.
“We also have two very exciting young drivers in the car. Whilst they are both F1 rookies, their combined depth of experience rising through the ranks in the junior formulae and in F1-supported young driver programmes leaves them well-placed for their debut season.
“It is still too early to fully appreciate the progress we have made for 2013, as that wide picture has a habit of revealing itself in Melbourne, but we make the long journey there this weekend feeling confident in our direction.”
Realistically, this is a team which is going to be contesting tenth place in the championship with Caterham as they did last year. But even without Glock they stand a decent chance of getting it.
Car 22: Jules Bianchi
Given the cards Marussia were dealt, landing Jules Bianchi is a result. A rookie he may be, but he’s been driving Ferrari’s F1 cars for for years and has had a lot of seat time for Force India over there past 12 months.
Bianchi has only had a day and a half in the MR02 (he’s spent more time in the VJM06) yet the ease with which he got on the pace in testing and his pedigree from junior formulae indicate he will be the team’s lead driver.
But spare a thought for Luiz Razia, who was signed and dropped by the team in less than a month when his backing failed to materialise. It’s bad enough that F1 seats are being sold to the highest bidder, and even worse that a driver should suffer that kind of heartbreak.
Car 23: Max Chilton
Chilton has been propelled towards Formula One aided by his father’s backing. But he’s shown a turn of speed as well and has got to grips with each new level he’s moved up to, though in GP2 it took a couple of years.
By the end of his third season in F1’s foremost feeder category Chilton was a regular contender at the front of the field. But he’s under no illusions that F1 is going to be a significant step up, even though he has had more testing in this car than his team mate.
Marussia championship form
Marussia in 2013: Your view
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