Saturday, June 7, 2014

Marussia Scores Two Points for the Little Guy

Andrew Hone/ Pirelli

As Formula 1 cars are unleashed on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix, one team arrives having unloaded a heavy burden. More than four non-point scoring seasons, the Marussia Formula 1 organization has become a team that is now registered in the actual Constructors’ points standings. With French driver Jules Bianchi’s ninth place finish at the recent race on streets of Monaco. Despite a time penalty for actions committed under a yellow flag that cost the team an eighth place result, Bianchi’s success with scoring two championship points was greatly applauded. It was a long fight for the team that was originally founded in 2010 as Virgin Racing. A feat that was celebrated like a victory for the Marussia F1 team, the path to achieving the Monaco Grand Prix triumph was a long one for not only an individual team but for a plan to reshape the Formula 1 grid.

In 2010, Formula 1 had just gotten off several difficult seasons that saw big automotive names like BMW, Honda and Toyota leave the sport. While economic problems of the time hit the sport like almost every sector of the global landscape, Formula 1 had been reaching a point where team budgets escalated to obscene amounts. Itself a concern where high-ranking teams would attract a great deal of money to field a front-running car, a shocking truth was money did not buy the results many expected for large car companies in Formula 1. Even as the Toyota Racing team possessed the largest operating budget of all Formula 1 teams for several seasons, it did not equate to a victory in any grand prix from 2002 to 2009. Though Honda and BMW won races, both automotive companies left pondering whether they received value for their investment in the sport. For 2010, the series decided to replenish their racing grid by giving four new teams a chance to compete against the established names like McLaren and Ferrari running on a more cost-efficient model.

Supplied with Cosworth V-8 engines and spec transmissions, the four teams would be able to operate on smaller budgets. With numerous applications submitted to be part of Formula 1, the chosen group of new entrants consisted of HRT, Lotus Racing, USF1 Team and Virgin Racing. Of the four teams named to be additions to the 2010 Formula 1 grid, one never performed a competitive lap. The USF1 Team fell apart before the season begun and faded into oblivion. The three active teams were readied for the 2010 season and failed to score points. HRT spent three seasons in Formula 1 but soon buckled under the financial pressures.

While the top-10 proved elusive for the Lotus Racing and Virgin Racing, eventful management restructuring also saw the teams change greatly over five seasons. Entered as Lotus Racing and initially existing at arms-length from the British sports car brand, personalities clashed between the two entities. In 2011, when Lotus Racing announced they were going to run under the historically significant “Team Lotus” banner, Lotus officially re-entered Formula 1 through a partnership with the Renault Formula 1 organization. After some rather public sparring matches, Team Lotus renamed itself Caterham (related to a car company team owner Tony Fernandes purchased during the 2011 season). Up until the Monaco Grand Prix, it was widely speculated the Caterham F1 Team would have been more likely to score Formula 1 points ahead of Marussia.

Operating as Virgin Racing through the 2010 season, Russian sports car company Marussia Motors bought into the team in 2011. Since 2012, the group has competed at the Marussia F1 Team with drivers Timo Glock and Charles Pic. In 2013, the team signed Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton who were both graduates from GP2 competition. Posting a season-best effort of 13th place in the Malaysian Grand Prix with Bianchi and a 14th with Chilton in Monaco, Marussia F1 Team chose to keep their driver line-up intact for 2014. Switching from Cosworth to Ferrari engine power, the Marussia MR03 demonstrated itself as one of the most formidable vehicles the team has produced to date. After years of being in a somewhat bizarre class fight with Caterham, Marussia showed strength against some of the moderate teams in Formula 1. After Max Chilton recorded a pair of 13th place runs in the first three races of the 2014 season, Jules Bianchi was the driver that pushed the Marussia F1 Team passed the threshold of the top-10 in grand prix results. The point-scoring run came after 83 grand prix events under the Virgin Racing/ Marussia F1 Team banner.

After the ninth place finish in Monaco, Marussia‘s Team Principal John Booth commented on the team website on the effort saying, “Naturally we are overjoyed at today’s result and it is a fantastic reward for all the hard work and determination, not just this year, but over the past four and a bit seasons.” Booth described his team as young and did attribute their success partly to endurance over the other teams.

Now registered in ninth place in the manufacturers’ points standings, the Marussia F1 Team will try to replicate this performance.

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