A backmarker team and its young rookie are driver emerging as a true surprise package of the 2013 season thus far.
Still yet to sign a commercial deal with Bernie Ecclestone for the new season, it emerged recently that Marussia could have disappeared from the grid over the winter in ultimately failed merger talks with usual back-of-the-grid rival Caterham.
For 2013, the Banbury-based team signed up pay-drivers Max Chilton and Luiz Razia, but the latter Brazilian’s sponsor money dried up before he could even travel to Melbourne.
At the eleventh hour, Marussia plumped instead for 23-year-old Frenchman Jules Bianchi; a handsome rookie with solid connections in the form of manager Nicolas Todt – son of the FIA president – and solidly under contract to Ferrari’s driver development ‘academy’.
The Ferrari link could see Marussia move from Cosworth to Maranello-made power for the new turbo V6 era.
“You have to ask the team (about that),” Bianchi told Switzerland’s Motorsport Aktuell.
“I don’t know anything about it,” he added, despite admitting that Ferrari “helped me to get the cockpit”.
Marussia might now be counting its lucky stars. Some believe that, after the first two races of 2013, and spotted from deep in the pack, Bianchi is standing out in the way that Fernando Alonso did at Minardi more than a decade ago.
So far, he is clearly faster than Chilton – the son of wealthy insurance mogul Grahame Chilton – and arguably on the road to scoring the team’s first-ever point.
“If I was a betting man,” Marussia chief executive Andy Webb told Reuters on Thursday, “I would bet on us beating Caterham this season.
“I would also recommend placing a bet on Marussia scoring their first point this season,” he added.
Bianchi agrees that the back end of the midfield is now a realistic target for Marussia, despite the team having the smallest budget in pitlane.
“Basically, the potential is there,” Bianchi agreed. “For the team and for me.
“In qualifying in Malaysia we were only 3 tenths slower than Williams. Compared to last year they were two seconds faster than us. That’s not bad, is it?”
Having tested extensively for Ferrari, and serving as Force India’s Friday practice driver last year, Bianchi admitted he expected to be underwhelmed when he first stepped into the 2013 Marussia.
Actually, he was “surprised”.
“I had expected the difference to be greater,” said Bianchi.
“I believe that, if we continue like this, we can start to think about Q2, and if I keep dreaming then maybe even the first championship point.”