Formula One 2013: Marussia team report

F1 Testing Jerez de la Frontera, Spain 5 - 8 February 2013Team: Marussia Cosworth (11th in 2012 constructor’s championship)

2012 Drivers Timo Glock (Zero points, 20th place in 2012 driver’s championship, now racing a BMW in DTM but at least getting paid for it), Charles Pic (Nil points 21st in championship, now with Caterham, the turncoat)

2013 Drivers: Jules Bianchi (Car Number 22) and Max Chilton (23)

New Car: The big news is this year’s Marussia has KERS. If last year’s car had KERS the team would undoubtedly have finished ahead of Caterham, which it so nearly did anyhow; when it works KERS a guaranteed bolt-on 0.4sec a lap.

That 10th place would have deposited something like an extra £12million in Marussia’s cash card account. That buys some more people, more grey matter and more hours in the wind tunnel in which the new MR02 has been developed exclusively, finally breaking the link with the team’s foundations with Virgin and the brave new, but bug-ridden world of computational fluid dynamics.

What Marussia says about its 2012 season: “If only there had been 19 races last year…”

What Sunday Afternoon Club says about 2012: If it is possible to be impressive while making up the numbers in the Q1 posse, then Marussia were impressive last year. They deserved to beat Caterham and so nearly did.

Why? Well the team as it is really has little to do with the team that entered F1 as Virgin Racing in 2010, its engineering contracted out to Nick Wirth’s server-farm. Back then Caterham, Virgin and HRT (gawd bless ‘em, they were rubbish but the cars were pretty) were meant to explore a new front of F1 finance, only to see it closed off and the big teams allowed to continue to spend big.

Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren are the three best-funded teams in F1. Go figure.

So Marussia had to start over. Despite the hopelessness but under the direction of former F1 bad boy Pat Symonds (he was suspended for his role in the ‘crash-for-places’ 2008 Singapore GP), Marussia hooked up with McLaren and produced a pretty car last year, albeit one based on Wirth’s discredited CFD concept.

Timo Glock had proven upper-midfield talent. Charles Pic (him with the One Direction hair) wasn’t so far behind across the season. Pic however decided to jump to Caterham. Out of the frying pan into the frying pan? We’ll see. But the cash flow issues meant Glock also had to go. Paying his salary in the hope he might secured the extra cash for 10th place was no longer a gamble Marussia could afford.

So who are these new boys then? Max Chilton is the new Brit in F1, he’s just 21. Jules Bianchi is French, he’s 23. Both have more going for then than their fast names.

There’s no getting around the fact that Chilton comes with money. His father Grahame is chairman of Aon Benfield, world’s largest re-insurers and sponsors of Manchester United. In eight seasons of racing Chilton has completed three in GP2. Having just two wins and two poles to his name in the series then might not seem like the stuff of which superstars are made, but both did come last year, the formula’s most competitive year. Blessed also with good looks, it’s going to be tough for Chilton to prove he’s more than a Trustafarian with a super licence, especially in the Marussia, so have a little sympathy.

Jules Bianchi meanwhile comes not with the backing of a rich father but with the backing of Ferrari. His junior formula CV is a little more complete than Chilton’s, and he’s seen a few more chequered flags. More importantly he’s been around F1 for the last two years, testing for Ferrari in 2011 and doing Fridays for Force India last year. Bianchi spend the first part of the winter season successfully testing this year’s Force India and it looked like that’s where he’d race, only for Adrian Sutil to grab that seat when the music stopped.

Indeed it looked like Bianchi might miss another year’s racing. It was only when Brazilian GP2 runner up Luis Razia’s sponsors didn’t complete its BACS to Marussia that Bianchi found a team at all. We suspect he’ll grab the opportunity with both hands.

What Marussia has to do to impress the Sunday Afternoon Club this year: Beat Caterham, clearly. And we’d like to see Chilton and Bianchi make the odd wave. But we’d also like Marussia to find itself a Russian Godfather, one who would rather support an F1 team than another huge house in London.

If you pay any attention to testing… The shenanigans around Glock/Razia/Bianchi meant Chilton got nearly all the running this winter, so a silver lining for the British rookie there. But come the final flag he was still right at the back, a little behind Bianchi. Bianchi however was pretty much on the pace of Pic’s Caterham.

Who are Marussia really racing this year? Caterham clearly and only Caterham. On the track. Off the track the Bianchi connection means the line to Maranello is open. A V6 turbo with red cam’ covers next year would suit…

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