With the Australian Grand Prix only one week away, the 2014 Formula 1 championship has piqued the interest from fans around the world. A new turbo V6 engine with hybrid power and a strict fuel limit seeks to increase relevance to car manufacturing and decrease the sport’s environmental impact. Reliability issues have visited all teams with Renault-powered teams seemingly in a bad way. That alone promises a shake-up to the grid and offers the small teams a chance to make some ground.
One of two surviving “new” teams to debut in 2010, Marussia (formerly Virgin) has become the face of the backfield in recent years. A strong first race in 2013 saw Marussia finally beat fellow back-markers Caterham to top 10 honors. Like Caterham, they have yet to score a single championship point. Having upgraded to a Ferrari power unit and with reliability blighting the Renault-powered cars, they may finally be in a position to change that.
Their 2014 entry, the MR-03, lacked the reliability of other Ferrari powered cars in pre-season tests, and they haven’t shown the sort of speed that will break into the midfield—even with Renault-powered cars struggling. With the smallest budget of any team, the engine itself will have likely consumed the majority of their income, limiting their ability to develop the car through the season. Any chance of points will likely happen in early races and depend on high rates of attrition.
Obviously Marussia’s odds of success will hinge on their drivers as much as the car (and luck). One of the only teams to retain their 2013 driver line-up, the pecking order between the two second-year drivers is clear going in.
Jules Bianchi – the French rising star?
Easily the team’s number-one, Bianchi crushed his teammate and single-handedly carried the team to 10th in the constructor’s championship.
In 2013, he out-raced his teammate, Max Chilton, 14 to 2 (3 DNFs), lapping him on more than one occasion. Qualifying described the talent gap between the drivers more clearly; he out-qualified his teammate in every race but one where a DRS malfunction added several tenths of a second to his time. That same grand prix (Singapore) was one of two occasions where his teammate bested him in a race (an injury in Japan afforded Chilton a second “victory” over his teammate).
Displaying such dominance over his teammate, it could be assumed that Bianchi is a truly staggering talent, and he may be. However, it should be noted that at no point in his career has Max Chilton been a highly rated driver, so it could be Bianchi’s skill was flattered as a result. Even so, if anyone will be able to get the most out of the MR-03, it is Bianchi.
Max Chilton – pay-driver poster child
To say Chilton ever edged Bianchi in qualifying or racing on merit would be generous. To say he would be in Formula 1 without millions in sponsorship money would be delusional. The highlight of his 2013 season was a first for the sport as he finished every race of the season. An asterisk may be warranted in the record, as it coincided with being notably slower than anyone else. While a number-two driver is commonplace in modern F1, such a performance deficit to the number-one is extremely unusual.
Chilton might be a safe pair of hands to bring the car home, and improvement is always possible, but his speed last year was an embarrassment to the sport. He might have some skill in another category of racing, but in F1 he is arguably the slowest driver of the modern era. Improvement is always possible though; Geido Van Der Garde was even slower than him at the start of 2013 and rapidly improved late in the season. And if he keeps his nose as clean as he did last season, Chilton might have a fair chance at getting points.
Jerez Total Laps: 30 Laps (9th*)
Bianchi: 25 Laps
Chilton: 5 Laps
Bianchi: 1’31.222 (14th quickest)
Chilton: No Time (N/A)
Bahrain Figures (Test 1 &2 Combined)
Total laps: 288 Laps (10th)
Bianchi: 161 Laps
Chilton: 127 Laps
Bianchi: 1’37.087 (16th)
Chilton: 1’36.835 (15th)
*Lotus did not take part in Jerez testing