The team fended off Caterham at the final round in Brazil to secure the result, contrasting heavily with the their fortunes 12 months earlier after they cruelly lost the coveted 10th place in the closing stages of the season finale. The long-awaited result not only proves the progress that the team has made, but it will also give them a vital financial boost.
The Banbury-based outfit secured the result early in the season after Jules Bianchi finished the Malaysian Grand Prix in 13th place, capitalising on the team’s performance advantage and six retirements. This was despite the Frenchman dropping behind both Caterham’s at the start.
It was a messy winter for the team after their original driver Luiz Razia was dropped due to sponsorship problems. Bianchi was Force India’s reserve driver in 2012 and had also tested for Ferrari due to being part of the team’s Driver Academy. He was in the running for the second seat at Vijay Mallya’s team after the departure of Nico Hulkenberg for 2013, but despite impressing during a run at the second test, they ended up choosing Adrian Sutil.
Marussia quickly snapped him up to replace the departing Razia, who was an F1 driver for just a few weeks, and it proved to be an inspired last-minute move. After just one test in the car, he out-qualified his team-mate Max Chilton by three quarters of a second in Australia and raced to 15th place. Impressively, he set the 11th fastest lap.
Next up was Malaysia and the crucial 13th place finish. Marussia clearly had the better car early on and this helped the team capitalise on the early issues experienced by other teams. However, focus and resources soon switched to 2014 and this meant that they couldn’t keep up with the upgrades being fitted to their nearest rivals.
By the end of the year, Caterham had the faster car but Bianchi still managed to finish ahead of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde on several occasions. He proved to be one of the stars of the season despite failing to score a top 10 finish. The 24-year-old also dominated the intra-team battle, beating his team-mate Max Chilton in qualifying 17 times and finishing ahead of him in 14 of the 16 races where they both took the chequered flag.
The stats don’t look good for the British driver, but he did make steady progress in his rookie season. Unlike fellow newbie Bianchi, he suffered a difficult start and was often around 0.8 seconds off the pace of his team-mate. However, that gap was cut considerably by the season’s end.
You also can’t ignore the fact that he set a new record by finishing all 19 races of his debut season. He rarely made mistakes and proved just how reliable the MR02 was.
So 2013 was definitely Marussia’s best season to date, as they managed to secure 10th in the constructors’ while also getting an early start on next year’s car and diverting more resources to 2014.
Next season they will be powered by Ferrari and the talent of Bianchi will remain. It could well be that the regulation changes give the team their best chance yet of latching on to the midfield.
Image courtesy of Octane Photographic