Time for Marussia to make the breakthrough?

By on Saturday, February 15, 2014
Marussia's MR03 made it to Jerez. Marussia F1 Team

Marussia's MR03 made it to Jerez. Marussia F1 Team

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Samuel Beckett's often used phrase to inspire those never to give up - recently crowned Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka has the quote tattooed onto his arm - and it could be applied to Marussia. Marussia has failed to score a point in four years of racing. They’ve started 77 races and achieved a best finish of 12th place (twice). It’s hardly an awe-inspiring statistic and since the team’s inception in 2010 they have established themselves as the minnows of the Formula 1 fraternity.

But even in the financially-motivated results-driven world of Formula 1, everything isn't black or white.

Considering their finances and their background – one paddock member described the outfit as a ‘glorified F3 team’ – Marussia's continued existence in the sport is an undoubted success. In 2012 they bested the now-defunct HRT team but missed out on eclipsing Caterham during the dying embers of the season. Last year they achieved their first real on-track success by beating fellow backmarkers Caterham. There are financial incentives for finishing in the top 10 of the championship, but they won’t be felt until Marussia repeat a top 10 finish either this year or next. But the team isn’t satisfied with simply beating Caterham as they have their eye on challenging the established midfield.

Jules Bianchi will lead Marussia's charge. Marussia F1 Team.

Jules Bianchi will lead Marussia's charge. Marussia F1 Team.

“We have to temper the fact that there are a great many unknowns this season with the fact that we are, by nature, a highly ambitious team that is always demanding more of itself,” says team principal John Booth.

“The target is to keep moving forward and that means being in a position where we no longer have to focus on the threat from behind and, instead, take the fight to the teams ahead.”

“It is very early days to be speculating about relative performance though and that is something we can perhaps only speak with confidence about in Australia.”

The MR03 was set to make its debut at the start of the week at Jerez, but a minor technical problem meant the car didn’t leave the Banbury-based factory until the last minute. The car arrived late on Wednesday afternoon and was ready 24 hours later, with Max Chilton completing five installation laps. Jules Bianchi added 25 laps on Friday which led to a promising start for the team, especially once the fortunes of rivals are taken into account. Initial feedback from the drivers and engineers was positive.

Formula 1’s shift to 1.6 litre V6 power units – not to mention the expense that comes with them – enabled Marussia to switch from Cosworth to Ferrari power. It’s a move which should boost the team, with Booth positive about the help which has been given by Ferrari.

Marussia has switched to Ferrari for this season. Marussia F1 Team.

Marussia has switched to Ferrari for this season. Marussia F1 Team.

“We have nothing but good things to say about our new relationship with Ferrari,” he says.

“They are extremely professional and have been entirely supportive from the beginning. There is excellent co-operation between our two technical groups in all areas of the new relationship and this has made the considerable challenge of integrating a new powertrain a great deal easier.”

It’s too early to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the MR03 but initial impressions were that it’s a tidy design. Driving for the team, for the second successive season, will be Bianchi and Chilton. No longer rookies, they have the bonus of a year's worth of experience and, perhaps more crucially, continuity. Half of the field is driving for a different team this year, with Mercedes the only other team to retain the same driver line-up. Marussia is hopeful that this continuity will reap dividends.

“In view of the significant regulation changes, continuity is key, so it is highly beneficial to our technical team, and the engineering group responsible for developing the car in the field, that we retain the same drivers moving forward,” says chief designer Dave Greenwood.

Greenwood, right, is pleased with Marussia's driver continuity. Marussia F1 Team.

Greenwood, right, is pleased with Marussia's driver continuity. Marussia F1 Team.

“What this means is that we have not only been able to optimise our monocoque design around an existing line-up, but we can focus all of our attentions on developing the MR03 with immediate effect.”

“As is the case with any young driver, the step up to F1 is exciting but also very daunting; the complexity of the steering wheel controls being one small but significant example. For 2014, the level of car complexity has increased dramatically due to the considerable role to be played by the power unit and the demands that places on the driver and his engineering team.”

“Retaining Jules and Max is one extremely valuable ‘known-quantity’ at the start of a season that is full of unknowns.”

In Bianchi, Marussia has a driver in the ‘potential future champion’ bracket. Bianchi swept through the junior system and while his years in GP2 and FR3.5 were slightly underwhelming, the raw pace was evident throughout. In 2013 he frequently took the fight to the Caterham drivers and his pace, especially during qualifying in Malaysia, left his Marussia team impressed. If Marussia can break into the midfield, Bianchi will be there. The only real question marks that remain revolve around his racecraft; Bianchi rarely raced a rival in 2013 and during his GP2/FR3.5 he was involved in several unnecessary collisions.

Chilton has a second chance to impress. Marussia F1 Team.

Chilton has a second chance to impress. Marussia F1 Team.

Chilton was regularly off the pace and is oft maligned as nothing more than a pay driver. It’s fair to say that his presence on the grid owes a lot to finances, but while some poured scorn on the Brit’s achievement of finishing all 19 races in 2013, that ability may aid Chilton this season. In not extracting the maximum from a car, Chilton takes fewer risks and doesn’t push the car to its limits. If the rate of attrition is high, especially early in the season, staying out of trouble and making the chequered flag could lead to a big points haul. Far better to retain Chilton than gamble on a rookie.

No-one in their right mind is expecting Marussia to be challenging for wins or podiums – even contending for points on an occasional basis would represent a giant leap forwards for the team. Much has been made of Marussia and Caterham’s failure to finish in the top 10, but Williams only achieved the feat twice in 2013. If Marussia can finish in the points this season then few would begrudge them the inevitable wild celebrations, but they won’t want to do it solely based on luck. They want to compete. But even if they just fail better, they’ve already succeeded.

Marussia F1 Team

Marussia F1 Team

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