March 15th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - The Australian Grand Prix weekend in Melbourne has started as well as could have been expected for Marussia, the team who were narrowly beaten to the coveted 10th place in the 2012 Constructors' Championship. They lost out then to Caterham, but will be satisfied to be ahead of their rival team at this stage of the first race weekend of the 2013 season.
Jules Bianchi in particular looked fast and confident, drawing the praise of the BBC TV commentary team who singled out Bianchi and Adrian Sutil as being the star performers of the day. What is most impressive about Bianchi's Friday performance is his lack of familiarity with the car - this is only Bianchi's third day driving the Marussia MR-02 and yet he looked comfortable in the car, pushing all around the lap at a circuit he had never driven before this weekend.
Max Chilton also had a strong day, finishing ahead of both Caterhams in FP1 and splitting the Caterhams in FP2. Chilton was the most productive driver of the day with 59 laps completed. As this is his first Grand Prix weekend and he has never driven the Albert Park circuit before, every lap provides valuable experience that will help him to be competitive on Sunday.
Both Chilton and Bianchi improved their lap times by over one and a half seconds from FP1 to FP2. That is partly attributable to the performance difference between the prime and option tyres, and partly to the fast-evolving track surface. Every lap of the circuit by a Formula One car lays down rubber on the surface that increases the amount of available grip. Having never raced on Formula One tyres before, the track evolution will be more extreme than either Bianchi or Chilton will have experienced before.
In terms of the battle of the team-mates, Bianchi has the clear upper hand at this stage, as he was nine tenths of a second quicker than Chilton in both Friday sessions. It is quite likely that the majority of that difference is down to experience, as Bianchi was Force India's reserve driver in 2012 and participated in a number of Friday practice sessions as part of that role. But it cannot be denied that Bianchi is looking confident. His body language is extremely positive, and he has the confidence on track to push the car to its limits immediately, which is a sign of a special talent.
Marussia's task for Saturday is to qualify ahead of the Caterhams and attempt to challenge the midfield runners for a place in Q2. With a wet qualifying session possible, anything can happen, and Marussia will be looking to take advantage of any opportunities that come their way.
Marussi's Friday results:
This is what the team had to say after Friday practice:
Jules Bianchi: “It has been a very good first practice for the Team and for me, so I am quite happy given that it is only my third day in the car. I have been looking forward to this day for quite a long time and it really worked out well I think. I’m sure it’s the case for other teams as well, because this is only day one, but it is very encouraging to know that while we have a good basis today, there is a lot more to come. We completed a detailed programme and put some good mileage on the car, so we have a lot of information to look through and see the direction for tomorrow. The car is performing well but we have quite a lot of understeer and we need to improve this. As for the track, I like it a lot. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but once you are up to speed it’s an amazing lap and now I can’t wait to do some more tomorrow.”
Max Chilton: “Our objective today was to learn the Albert Park track as quickly as possible and then start to gather plenty of information with the car and the tyres, so I’m pretty happy with what we’ve achieved in terms of the programme. Now we can start to piece that together a little more to focus on outright performance and I think tomorrow we will have a clearer idea of where we stand versus the cars around us. Even at this early stage though I’m sure we can feel positive about where we are in relation to our immediate competitors and the car has shown some real promise. Though its early in the season, that’s a nice reward for all the hard work we’ve been doing over the winter and in testing, so well done to the Team here and back at home. So, a late night tonight looking at the data and then we’ll aim to push forward again tomorrow. Albert Park is an amazing circuit and I’ve loved every second of driving it so far. Tomorrow will be another big milestone in my debut weekend with my first Formula 1 qualifying and I’m very excited about that.”
John Booth, Team Principal: “We’re very pleased with our opening day here in Melbourne and it really couldn’t have gone any better for us with our new car, two new drivers and some good signs in terms of performance and reliability. We came here with a few concerns about how things were going to play out with the tyres, but we also knew that the less abrasive track surface and high ambient temperatures would mitigate many of the issues we experienced in testing. Degradation will remain a challenge though and we can expect to see some interesting racing as a consequence of that, which is of course a good thing. We’re feeling positive but at this stage we’re not treating this as anything other than a good first day and we won’t have a true picture until we’ve completed our first qualifying and then have a race distance under our belts. What I will say though is that the Team have got us off to a good start here and the drivers have done a very solid job, so there’s a nice feeling as we head into our first Grand Prix of the new season. We’ve done all our homework today and put the drivers in a good situation to make the most of their first Grand Prix weekend, so we will see what tomorrow brings now.”