Australian GP: Marussia buoyed by shrinking gap to midfield
|By Edd Straw||Saturday, March 16th 2013, 11:00 GMT|
Marussia believes that it is possible to get within striking distance of the back of the Formula1 midfield pack this season after showing promising pace during the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton qualified 19th and 20th, comfortably ahead of the Caterhams and also within a second of both Williams cars as well as Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber and Adrian Sutil's Force India.
The Marussias had been within a second of the midfield stragglers during Friday practice in dry conditions and with gaps in the race usually narrower than in qualifying, hopes are high for Sunday.
"I think so," Marussia team principal John Booth told AUTOSPORT when asked if he thought it would be possible to keep the back of the midfield pack in sight.
"We expected to be in a hole somewhere between Caterham and the rest.
"To a certain extent, that is true but at least now we have a gap that we can close.
"If it was a second-and-a-half gap, we would have been lost in no man's land, not knowing what to do in respect of how hard to chase this year and how hard to chase 2014.
"But that gap appears at the moment to be closer than we thought it was and it gives us something to close down."
Chilton is hopeful of being within striking distance in Sunday's race.
While he does not believe that the car is quick enough to be ahead on merit, he is hopeful that if some midfield cars hit trouble, the Marussias will be able to trouble them.
"It's a lot nearer than I thought it was going to be," Chilton told AUTOSPORT.
"Tomorrow, wet or dry, if we play our cards right and do the right strategy we won't be too far away, so we could be challenging [the midfield]."
A back-of-the-grid team's rhetoric about troubling the midfield pack seems old hat after years of Caterham flattering to deceive, but Marussia's start to the season is genuinely impressive.
Nobody in the team is arguing that their car is quicker or even as quick as the back of that group, but the limited evidence so far suggests that its race pace will be enough at least to keep the midfield within sight and perhaps even get ahead of any stragglers who hit trouble, which is the limit of its ambitions.
That's not to say that Marussia's form has been transformed as last year, on average, its raw pace was 3.934 per cent off the fastest.
Using Friday afternoon practice as the best available dry weather comparison, it's 4.049 per cent off in Australia.
But while the likes of Red Bull have taken a step forward, the back of the midfield appears to have lost ground, allowing Marussia to be potentially close enough to hang on.
While it is still locked in a largely private battle with Caterham, a battle it is currently winning comfortably, this is at least evidence that the smallest team in F1 is starting to make progress after a difficult start to its existence.
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