Midseason Report: Grading Marussia's Jules Bianchi
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One of five rookies on the F1 grid for the 2013 season, Frenchman Jules Bianchi joined the Marussia team after finishing as the runner-up in the Formula Renault 3.5 series and acting as Force India’s official reserve driver.
Notably, he was third in the 2011 GP2 Series ahead of Charles Pic, Giedo van der Garde, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton. And although Pic already had one full F1 season under his belt at Marussia before making the switch to Caterham and Gutierrez having a more competitive seat at Sauber, Bianchi looked the more polished newbie on paper.
The season-opener in Australia appeared to bear that out, Bianchi outqualifying Chilton and the Caterhams and staying well ahead of his nearest rivals to the chequered flag. After the race, Bianchi was understandably pleased as indicated by his post race quotes on Autosport's website.
I am very happy with my race today and really can't imagine a better start to my first season of F1. We have not had the luxury of time so I would like to thanks my engineers, car crew and the whole team for helping me to be as prepared as possible and for a great job today. It would seem that the Team have made a big step over the winter and it is very nice to see them reacting positively to this.
If Australia was a good start for Bianchi, Malaysia was even better, the Frenchman again outqualifying teammate Chilton and the Caterhams and even holding off the Williams of Pastor Maldonado for long periods en route to 13th at the end of an attritional race that saw six retirements.
"Obviously I'm delighted to finish 13th today, after 15th in my first race last weekend. I hope this is a trend we can continue,” Autosport quoted Bianchi as saying afterwards.
For the first time in the season, Bianchi was not the lead Marussia or Caterham as compatriot Pic finished ahead in Bahrain and Spain, albeit by just two and one place respectively.
Next came Monaco and a reality check. An electrical problem on the grid meant Bianchi had to start from the pit lane, but he was able to keep pace with Chilton until debris from his teammate’s accident with Maldonado damaged his front wing before a brake disc failure at Ste Devote ended his race.
Another solid effort in Canada again saw Bianchi finish as best of the red and green backmarking machines in 17th almost a lap ahead of Pic, and he again enjoyed a decent scrap with his French compadre at Silverstone, finishing five seconds behind but well ahead of Chilton and van der Garde.
Germany proved the low point of his impressive debut season, although through no fault of his own, as his race ended in a fiery engine failure on lap 21, Bianchi fleeing his blazing Marussia before it rolled back across the circuit, bringing out the safety car.
Hungary offered rare disappointment as the Marussias finished a lap behind the two Caterhams for the first time, but Bianchi has certainly proven himself a more than capable driver during the first half of 2013 and so far worthy of his race seat.
"I'm really happy with what we have done, even if we want a bit more performance. I think we're doing well," Bianchi told Autosport. "It's a different challenge but actually we know what we can do at the maximum so we're trying to get that done all the time. For us, a victory is to be in front of my team-mate and Caterham, so that is the only target we have."
Who will win the battle of Marussia v Caterham driver battle?
Jules’ mid-season marks
Race craft: 7/10
Summary: It's hard to say anything bad about Bianchi’s debut half term. He has outqualified and outraced his rivals on the majority of occasions, and it will be intriguing to see how the Caterham-Marussia battle of the Frenchmen continues.
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