On arguably the calendar’s most challenging circuit, Max Chilton has stepped up to the plate in Japan by out-qualifying team-mate Jules Bianchi and the more fancied Caterhams of Pic and van der Garde in the process.
Speaking after qualifying, Max was understandably jubilent, but wasn’t expecting to beat the Caterhams with two-tenths in hand.
“We all know it’s very challenges and it’s not a simple one to learn” said Chilton when speaking about his first time at Suzuka. “I was really, really happy with my out lap and we’ve out-done both Caterhams where it looks like they’ve had a little more pace”.
The last time Chilton out-qualified Bianchi was in Monaco, but the Frenchman had succumbed to issues during the tricky qualifying session. If Max believed this was a sweeter moment he didn’t show it; believing his performances since the mid-season break were pointing towards a break in the drought.
“In Monza on fuel-correction I would’ve done it” Max said. “In Singapore it was half a tenth over a two-minute lap and you can visually see since the August break it’s been really close. It’s nice to put on an even fight on a track we both don’t know. It’s a challenging track so I’m really happy. It’s more of an old-school, flowing circuit.”
Much talk has been made of drivers like Kevin Magnussen (who was being publicly promoted by Martin Whitmarsh in Singapore) making a push for a seat in 2014, but Chilton is convinced his performances alone from now on will dictate whether he retains a seat at Marussia next year.
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“Since August the team have been really happy with my performances and I’ve been happy with them as well” insisted Chilton. “I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve now proven I’ve got the pace. I’ve got the consistency as myself and Lewis are the only drivers to finish every race. Like every sport Formula One is about the whole package. You might have ultimate pace but you also need to bring the car home.”
Heading into a new track and one as challenging as Suzuka can be a daunting prospect at this level for a driver, although can sometimes prevent a fresh opportunity for a driver to prove his worth and shake off peripheral areas of complacency that can set in by pounding around the same tracks year after year. While Max believed there was an element of ‘just going for it’ that might have played a part, he credited the team’s tenacity to fight back from a disappointing Friday pace as the main reason for his Saturday turnaround.
“Yeah sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn’t” said Max. In the first session this weekend I wasn’t happy with a mixture of things. We were struggling for grip, but we’re professionals and you’ve got to work on what you’ve got and today we did that.”
Focussing on Sunday, does Max think he can stay ahead of the Caterham’s on pace or through strategy?
“Definitely” enthused Chilton. “We’re going to have to play our cards right, but it’s definitely do-able”