Marussia still expects best Formula 1 year yet despite tough winter
|By Matt Beer||Tuesday, March 12th 2013, 11:02 GMT|
Marussia starts the 2013 Formula 1 season in its best ever shape, reckons team boss John Booth, despite its turbulent winter of driver shuffling.
Spurned Force India candidate Bianchi ultimately took the vacant seat, while Chilton had already been signed to replace Caterham-bound Charles Pic in the other car.
Booth said those distractions have overshadowed the genuine technical progress Marussia has made.
"Although certain aspects of our winter were quite challenging, the overwhelming feeling we take into the Australian Grand Prix is great optimism," he said.
"In many ways we are in our best shape ever as a team and everyone is thriving on that.
"Our new package has performed well in pre-season testing, with encouraging signs in terms of performance and reliability."
Bianchi was also upbeat despite only getting one and a half days of running in the Marussia MR02 before Melbourne.
"So much has happened over the past couple of weeks that it's difficult to get my head around the fact that I am about to begin my Formula 1 racing career in Melbourne," he said.
"Things happen for a reason and I feel confident that we are going to have a very positive season together.
"There is a nice and positive vibe about the team and good signs from the work that has been done with the MR02.
"In the short period of time that I was driving the car in Barcelona last week, I felt very comfortable based on my previous experiences with other F1 cars I have driven, so I'm excited to see what we can achieve in the first few races."
Ditching your lead driver then having to replace his replacement, all within the space of just over a month, is not usually the sign of a team in good shape.
Yet the greatest sadness of Marussia's winter driver choice tombola was that it came just as the team appeared to be clawing its way forward.
It had closed the gap on Caterham in 2012 and completed a major technical restructuring that added windtunnel technlogy, KERS, Pat Symonds and McLaren support.
There were tangible reasons to believe that there was a sunrise on Marussia's horizon after the disappointments and occasional embarrassments of its troubled early years.
All of those technical gains are still real, though. And while there is no sign that Marussia is about to start scaring the likes of Toro Rosso, its car looked far better behaved than nearest rival Caterham in winter testing.
Adding Bianchi also rebalances the driver line-up. While Chilton is clearly fast, Bianchi brings extensive experience of working with Ferrari and Force India, putting him a step ahead of most rookies.
Plus the flaky moments that cost the Frenchman career momentum in GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 tended to come when under pressure of expectation. Adversity can bring out his best. No one is expecting miracles from this last-gasp underdog deal, and that could suit Bianchi very well.