Canadian Grand Prix: Marussia's John Booth Talks About Monaco and Montreal

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Canadian Grand Prix: Marussia's John Booth Talks About Monaco and Montreal
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

MONTREAL — Marussia team principal John Booth is a hot property in the paddock this weekend after his team scored their first points at the Monaco Grand Prix a fortnight ago. 

"It's a very satisfying feeling on Monday," he told me when I spoke to him in the Marussia hospitality area at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Friday morning.

"Go back to the factory and have a glass of champagne with the whole team, and it's wonderful. But then it's straight into thinking about Canada, a different animal of a track altogether. Will we be as competitive here as we were in Monaco?"

That is the million-dollar question right now for Marussia. And not only in Canada—will they be as competitive anywhere else as they were around the streets of the principality?

In the FIA press conference on Friday, Marussia's chief engineer Dave Greenwood said:

Obviously on pure pace alone we’re not going to repeat that result this weekend. ... But the bottom line is if you’re fighting with the cars that are trying to take the eighth, ninth and tenth-place spots, they’re good competitors, so you need to have a reasonable amount of pace to be able to stay with them.

And that is exactly where Marussia was in Monaco. But the team's long-awaited leap into the top 10 was partly the result of upgrades the team brought to the previous race in Spain.

"We brought quite a few upgrades to the Barcelona race," Booth told me. "A different suspension that allowed us to maximize the ride height, new aero parts. But during a race weekend, it's very difficult to maximize all these parts, or fine-tune them."

There was a two-day test immediately following the Spanish Grand Prix, though, and those days allowed Marussia to calibrate their new kit.

When Max Chilton set the fastest lap on the first day of the test, it was largely dismissed because he set it on supersoft tyres while many of the usual front-runners were using a harder compound. It is clear from the results in Monaco, though, that Marussia were on to something.

"Our first objective was to get to Q2 on merit," Booth told me. "I think in Monaco, we could have done that. We had a gearbox issue, or a differential issue, on Jules' [Bianchi] car in qualifying which prevented that. We had to change the gearbox, so he started right at the back, but I think in terms of competitiveness, we could have gotten to Q2 on merit."

Based on my analysis of Marussia's qualifying pace, the numbers certainly support that assertion.

The team has been slowly building to this level over the last four-and-a-half years. In 2013, they beat Caterham in the Constructors' Championship for the first time and finished 10th. Still, said Booth, "Last year, there were many occasions when Caterham had a quicker car than us. This year, we're well ahead of Caterham on pace."

Bianchi demonstrated that pace in Monaco with a dramatic pass on Caterham's Kamui Kobayashi halfway through the grand prix.

Although there was contact and Caterham was unhappy with the manoeuvre, Booth said, "It was never mentioned by the stewards at all."

"We thought it was brilliant and the officials saw nothing wrong with it. It was a mega move—you don't get many chances around there. Kimi [Raikkonen] obviously distracted Kamui for that instant, and Jules took it."

Booth said that, "Once Jules passed Kobayashi...we started asking, 'Can we do one stop? Can we do 52 laps on one set of options?' And we started chatting to Jules about this possibility. He thought he could make it and maintain the pace he was doing, so that became the strategy."

That move did not guarantee Marussia their points, though. Earlier in the race, Bianchi had served a five-second penalty during a safety-car period, which is not allowed. I asked Booth why they chose to have him serve the penalty at that time, knowing that it might not count.

"The rule is a bit confusing," Booth admitted. "The first part of it is quite clear, that if you don't take your five-second penalty at the first available pit stop, then you're excluded. End of story. So we felt we had to take it then just to cover ourselves."

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Bianchi in Monaco.

Late in the race, with Bianchi in 10th place, it became clear that five seconds would be added to his time to make up for the penalty served under the safety car. With Romain Grosjean just behind him, that would have bumped the Marussia out of the points.

"Initially, we tried to push away from Grosjean," Booth told me, "but it would have totally killed the tyres if we pushed any harder. So we knew that was our fate."

Fate—and Raikkonen—smiled on Marussia that Sunday in Monaco, though. When the Finn made a clumsy attempt to pass Kevin Magnussen into the hairpin late in the race, Bianchi was able to pass both of them. Even with the extra five-second penalty, he still finished ninth.

Marussia is now ahead of Caterham and Sauber in the Constructors' Championship and looking to build on the Monaco result. The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is better-suited to the high-powered Mercedes engines, so, as Greenwood said, the team is not anticipating an encore performance in Montreal.

"Just getting the car to Jerez [for preseason testing] was not quite a miracle, but beyond expectations," Booth admitted. "So we really didn't know where we would figure this year."

From that uncertain beginning to points in Monaco has been quite a journey. More opportunities will surely come, and if Marussia keeps improving the way they have so far this year, they will be ready to exploit them.

 

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