November 6th, 2013 (F1plus/P. Godley).- Around this time last year I wrote a piece on the battle for 10th place between Marussia and Caterham. 12 months on and I appear to be at the same spot again. Same teams, same positions.
So, what's changed?
In simplistic terms you could argue that very little has. Still no points scored by either team, still both battling for that crucial 10th spot, and still both are marooned at the back of the pack. But Formula 1 isn't simplistic. Results are fundamentally the most important part of any sport, particularly Formula 1. But performances, and those relative to your competitors, are looked on as just as crucial - especially to team bosses, potential sponsors and the fans.
Let's have a look at the respective results then, shall we? A 13th place finish in Malaysia for Jules Bianchi could be the result that ensures Marussia finish 10th in the Constructors Championship, a final standing that would be the team's highest in the sport to date. Three 14th place finishes between the two Caterham drivers sees them filling the 11th and final spot in the standings currently, but both teams know that just one 13th place for the men in green would (at the moment) be enough to ensure they leapfrog their rivals and secure the vital extra revenue come the season end.
Remember Brazil last season? Anything can happen, no matter where you find yourself in the running order. A last gasp 11th place around Interlagos for Vitaly Petrov saw the spoils once again go to Caterham. Will the same happen again this time around? Or will Marussia be able to hold on to their 10th place that they've held since the opening race of the season?
As I said at the start of the piece, results in this sport are vital, but it's the performances of drivers relative to their team mates and rivals that are of particular interest when trying to write and analyse what we see. So with that in mind, it's time to move on to some performance related scribbles.
The man who's impressed the most at the rear of the field has undoubtedly been Frenchman, Jules Bianchi. His early season form in particular drew in plaudits the world over as he set himself some very strong foundations for a long and prosperous career at this level. Within a few races he was being linked with drives at the likes of Force India and Ferrari; links that are more than justified.
In early races it looked like he was finally going to be the one to take it to the slower midfield runners, and at times he did. Sadly that much desired and longed for outcome never really materialised as the MR02 began to fall back towards Caterham instead of forwards at the Williams' and Sauber's (at the time).
What about Caterham then? It's been a strange season really. I say strange, but maybe that isn't the best word. Frustrating is probably more accurate. Saying that, it's probably the very same word I used to describe their 2012 season. Once again that elusive point's finish has never looked like being achieved.
Many were disappointed to see Heikki Kovalainen out a race seat this season, but given the current climate and necessity for funds at the moment; the decision to go with the pair of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde made relative sense.
Would the move to choose the Dutchman have personally been one I'd have taken? At the time, no. After the first few races? No. From Hungary onwards however, van der Garde has really surprised me, and in a good way. He looked a little out of his depth, Canada highlighted this very point. Since then though he appears to have matured into a driver who is capable of racing at this level. Racing alongside Charles Pic was always going to be a tough task initially, and one that did appear to take a while to adjust and adapt to.
Pic is a driver who impressed me a lot last year, particularly over the second half of the season (similar to Giedo I guess). His move across to Caterham was initially a slightly surprising one, but given Caterham's set up with Renault it began to make more sense. Pic has been consistent this year, something that should come as little surprise given the Frenchman's relaxed, slightly shy persona. He may have been overshadowed slightly by his compatriot in the Marussia, but nevertheless it's been a solid second year for Charles and one that hopefully sees him return for many a year to come. There's certainly something there, he just needs (like many) the car under him to showcase it.
Last but not least (but often last, sorry Max!) is the second Marussia driver, Max Chilton. Again he wouldn't have been mine or many others' choice of driver, but hey-ho, we're not the decision makers. A very testing start to his rookie campaign which often saw Max further behind Jules Bianchi than any team mate would ever want to be. He's notably improved throughout the year, and has got closer to Bianchi on numerous occasions. He's still not ideally where he'd want to be in relation to his team mate I'm sure, but it's not been a year full of negatives for sure.
He's finished every race this season, the only driver to do so. And what was the point I made at the start? Results are vital. Whilst Max's results may not be spectacular, they still are results. By being on track every time you are giving yourself every chance to one day secure that elusive, crucial big result.
So then, let's summarise. Four drivers with just one year's experience between them, driving for the two 'newest' additions to the Formula 1 grid. At times they've all impressed, with the standout man undeniably being Jules Bianchi. Pic has continued his rise in stature, van der Garde has really come to light in the second half of the year and Chilton has shown consistency and the ability to finish races, a trait that many a team manager will admire.
The major disappointments for me lay with the team's themselves. It's been four years now and still no sign of joining the midfield, of scoring a point or of even getting out of Q1 in dry conditions. It's tough, very tough in fact. The midfield is strong, budgets are tight and costs are astronomical even at the rear. Fingers crossed for all involved that 2014 brings about it an upturn in grid position, at least on some sort of semi-regular basis. Who knows, big regulation changes can often see crazy things happen.
What crazy things will happen in the final two races of 2013 then? Austin and Brazil, where anything can and probably will play out. What about Williams? 9th in the Constructors' with just a solitary point to their name.
Nervous times ahead I'm sure. One fluke race, one fluke result and all could change. There's always a battle worth watching in Formula 1 - you just need to look in the right places. The pursuit for 10th remains as it was, as we leave Abu Dhabi and head to Austin. Let the battle resume once more.
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