Is Max Chilton really ready for Formula One? That was the question on many people’s lips before the opening weekend of the season in Australia.
The good thing for Chilton was that he wasn’t alone in being the only rookie on the grid. The bad news was that coming into F1 Chilton hadn’t really set the racing world alight, his first two seasons in GP2 yielding just seven points as opposed to current teammate Jules Bianchi, who was third and second in the respective championship seasons.
A more competitive year in 2012 saw him finish fourth with two race wins, but Chilton also comes with investment from individuals and businesses in order to give minnows Marussia much-needed funding. It always throws up that old pay driver quandary of talent vs. money, so has Chilton justified his place in the team?
On statistics alone, the answer must be no. Bianchi has outqualified Chilton in nine out of the 10 races to date and finished ahead of the Englishman on six occasions, which would have been eight barring two retirements. While Bianchi has clearly been the stand-out of the Marussia vs. Caterham battle, it’s probably fairer to judge Chilton on his battles with the men in green and, notably, Giedo van der Garde.
Australia was a mixed bag. Chilton tangled with van der Garde, which necessitated a front-wing change, but he was still able to pass his rival by the finish.
He qualified ahead of the Dutchman in Malaysia but was the last of the finishers before a stronger showing in China saw him ahead of both Caterhams on the grid and van der Garde by the finish.
Chilton again bettered van der Garde in Bahrain and Spain, but he showed his inexperience in Monaco when he didn’t see Pastor Maldonado’s Williams on his right and tipped the Colombian into the barriers at Tabac, leading to a drive-through penalty. That he still passed van der Garde on the penultimate lap for 14th showed a good temperament to put things quickly behind him, as summarised in his team’s press release.
Overall I'm pleased with a positive conclusion to the race after what has been a difficult weekend for us. I fought hard in the latter stages to ensure we had something good to take away from Monaco and naturally I am very happy that I was able to get past Van Der Garde on the penultimate lap for 14th. With regard to the accident with Pastor, Esteban made a late lunge into the chicane and I could see he was locked up so I had to take action to avoid him, which meant missing the chicane. I rejoined coming out of Turn 11 and the apex to Turn 12 was fast approaching. I was aware that someone was behind me but not alongside me. The stewards determined a drive-through penalty for me and I accept that decision.
He again outqualified van der Garde in Canada but was last of the classified finishers before again finishing ahead of his Dutch rival in Britain and Germany.
That Chilton is classified behind van der Garde and 22nd in the drivers’ standings appears to be a bit of an anomaly given that he’s been the more consistent performer on paper, but we shouldn’t read too much into that.
The second half of the season will be more of an indication whether or not Chilton has done enough to keep a coveted place at the table of the highest form of motorsport.
Max's Midseason Marks
Race craft: 6/10
Summary: Chilton has been comprehensively outshone by teammate Bianchi but stacked up favourably against fellow rookie van der Garde. Consistent if uninspiring.