It took nearly four-and-a-half years, but Marussia finally scored their first world championship points this weekend at the Monaco Grand Prix. Jules Bianchi finished ninth for the Banbury-based team, making them the first of the new teams who joined Formula One in 2010 to score any points.
Earlier in the attrition-filled race, it seemed Marussia's rivals at the back of the grid, Caterham, would be the ones to snag a top-10 finish.
On Lap 35, Kamui Kobayashi was running in 12th place when Kimi Raikkonen passed him on the run from Tabac to La Rascasse. As Raikkonen went through, Bianchi followed, pushing Kobayashi wide and damaging the Caterham car.
That proved to be the decisive move, and Bianchi found himself eighth as engines gave out and Raikkonen parked his car at the hairpin with Kevin Magnussen stuck to his sidepod.
He finished there, ahead of Romain Grosjean, but an unfortunate circumstance where Bianchi was unable to properly serve a five-second penalty during his pit stop led to him being bumped behind the Lotus in the official results.
Still, the two points for ninth are a massive result for Marussia. Not only are they ahead of Caterham, but also Sauber, as the Swiss team has failed to score yet this season. The potential financial rewards for Marussia could be approximately $40 million, should they finish this year ninth in the Constructors' Championship.
After the race, Marussia team principal John Booth said, per the official F1 website:
Naturally we are overjoyed at today’s result and it is a fantastic reward for all the hard work and determination, not just this year, but over the past four and a bit seasons. ... A lot of this weekend’s clear step stems from the progress we made at the recent Barcelona Test. We were cautiously optimistic about our performance increment, but we really needed to see it translate into a good race here in Monaco before we could feel too confident.
That cautious optimism proved to be well-founded.
Before the season, I demonstrated that both Marussia and Caterham have been slowly closing the gap to the more established teams. That increased pace, combined with eight retirements, finally allowed Marussia to sneak into the points.
According to the official F1 site, Bianchi admitted that, "It was not an easy race; there were some enjoyable highs along the way, but also a couple of concerning moments too. What matters at the end is that we got there and we can savour the highlights for a long time to come."
At Caterham, the mood was understandably more subdued, despite Marcus Ericsson matching the team's best-ever finish, in 11th place.
Kobayashi lamented, via a team press release, that:
Even though we finished in 13th I’m really not happy as I’m sure I’d have finished in the points if Bianchi hadn’t hit me when he forced his way past. The car was basically undriveable after that so just finishing is a good result. ...
I don’t really know why nothing was done about that as he basically just forced me out of the way by hitting me which meant both the Marussia and my teammate could pass and after that the car felt really bad. The impact had caused a lot of damage to the sidepod and the floor and I lost a lot of rear downforce.
It is difficult to say whether Bianchi's pass on Kobayashi should have been penalised or not. It was certainly a thrilling manoeuvre, and the contact seemed incidental, but drivers have been given penalties for cleaner passes before (see the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix for an example).
In the end, though, it is better that the stewards did not step in. The drivers need to be allowed to race and, with everyone complaining about the lack of overtaking in Monaco, they should not be punished when they do take a chance and accidentally bump another car.
Of course Kobayashi will be upset, but that is just the nature of racing.
In the meantime, it was all celebration in the Marussia garage. After a night of partying in Monaco, the team will want to refocus on Montreal, though.
The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is another track with the potential for plenty of retirements, and Marussia will be keen to keep their newly won position as king of the backmarkers.
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