Formula 1 2013 Progress Report: Marussia
The 2013 Formula One season is two races old, and already we've seen plenty of drama and incidents. With a three-week gap between the Malaysian and Chinese Grand Prix, it's a good time to look at where each team has found itself.
We'll start where we finished 2012 (if we ignore the now-defunct HRT), with last year's 11th-placed team Marussia.
Before the season got underway, it was clear the 2013 Marussia MR02 looked like a much better starting point than the MR01 of last year. Part of that might have been the much improved paint job, but the car itself looked tidy—and more importantly, it was ready for preseason testing.
Aware that their budget and facilities would never allow them to match the top dogs, the team didn't try to do everything at once. No giant leap was attempted.
Instead, Marussia's approach was to first get the simple things right—and on the evidence of the opening two races, they've done that very well. The car has proved reliable, tyre usage doesn't appear overly excessive and there are no doubt bits and pieces already in the process of being improved.
Jules Bianchi has shown very promising pace, outqualifying both Caterhams in both races and coming surprisingly close to the "midfield" teams. In Australia he was just eight tenths of a second from getting into Q2, and in Malaysia it was six tenths.
The gap to Williams' Pastor Maldonado—a man who, despite his frequent difficulties elsewhere, is considered a good qualifier—was half a second or less on each occasion.
In the races the gap to the midfield was more pronounced at the end, but compared to fellow backmarker Caterham, Bianchi performed well in each.
The same can't be said for Max Chilton.
The gap to Bianchi at the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix was a minute (a shade over 50 seconds in Australia). In qualifying, Bianchi has been (on average) a whole second faster.
In his defence, he doesn't have Bianchi's F1 experience—though he'd started no races prior to 2013, the Frenchman had done plenty of testing and practice—and in both races Chilton had battles with a Caterham, while his teammate had a relatively clear run.
And two races, especially a driver's first two, aren't much to use as a comparison. But without wishing to play "bash the newbie," he's not currently doing enough.
The team can only only hope he'll start to close the gap once he's found his feet within the sport.
Last season Marussia started off behind Caterham, but this year the positions have been reversed.
It's unlikely that the Russian team—who have the smallest budget on the grid—can out-develop teams like Williams and Sauber to join the midfield pack, and Marussia probably weren't (realistically) aiming for that anyway.
It's all about beating Caterham.
Marussia showed an ability to improve their car last year, and with Pat Symonds (formerly of Toleman, Benetton, Renault and an enforced absence from the sport due to Crashgate) heading up the technical department, they have a vastly experienced man at the helm.
But last year they were starting from a much lower point, and their quest for extra speed no doubt benefited from having the experienced Timo Glock around. And we can't forget Caterham have good people too, as well as a number of significant changes planned for their car.
Though Marussia currently look favourites to claim 10th in the Constructors' Championship, the lack of budget and experience in their driver lineup may prove costly.
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