Jonny Rocklicff. A life-long Motorsport fan writing for GP Focus and regularly giving his thoughts on its podcast, often enjoying making references to Formula One from "back in the day". Follow him on Twitter at @SilkCutJag1985
October 9th, 2012 (F1plus / Jonny Rockilff).- Despite being in their third full season of Formula One Caterham, Marussia and HRT are still referred to as the “new teams” by many people in the paddock. It is fair to say that has been an uphill struggle for them all, even before their first cars were completed and fired up for the first time, since the close of the last decade when their applications were accepted by the FIA on the premise of a “budget cap” that was never implemented. However with a “can do” attitude they have survived against the odds and are slowly but surely closing the deficit in performance to the more established teams.
Even so the teams still come in for harsh criticism from sceptics particularly when you consider that the budget cap was never implemented and HRT for example has gone through several ownership changes in its time and relocated their team headquarters to Madrid, hardly a stable platform to build a team on and to expect it to score points. Caterham (formerly Team Lotus in 2011 and 2010) has frequently been the quickest of the three teams which isn’t surprising given the now Leafield-based outfit’s resources and stability – notwithstanding the “Lotus naming row” – and during the summer finally appeared to be ready to challenge the midfield after duelling with Toro Rosso at the European Grand Prix. Hopes were high with several large upgrade packages were brought to the CT01 at subsequent races however the increase in performance they were hoping for hasn’t materialised and now the team is slipping backwards again.
Even with resources as used by World Champions Red Bull such as their gearboxes, Renault engines and KERS units Caterham has now slipped to eleventh in the Constructors Championship and the benefactor is none other than Marussia, after Timo Glock delivered a clean, consistent drive to twelfth place in the high attrition Singapore Grand Prix. This is as a big boost to the Marussia team given they have also had difficult times since their debut in the sport, as Virgin racing, but are beginning to make larger strides and could be the team next season to lead the challenge to break into the midfield. It is interesting to note that in both 2010 and 2011 the team has finished last in the Constructors Championship behind HRT due to the latter managing to achieve higher finishing positions in high attrition races and should Marussia manage to hold on to tenth it will bring them more prize money.
Nick Wirth’s CFD facilities produced this tipe of graphics and animations.
Whatever happens for the rest of the season Marussia will be unsung heroes as their achievements will likely be unnoticed by the more casual followers of the sport, they should be credited as one of the teams that has improved the most as the season has gone on. During the Virgin days the VR-01 and VR-02 cars were purely computer designed by Nick Wirth’s CFD facilities and the cars never saw a wind tunnel. The premise behind this approach was that Wirth had enjoyed success using this technique for Honda and their Acura ARX sports cars and that it saves costs and resources in designing racing cars, however with Formula One cars being more aerodynamically intricate than sports cars both cars built for Virgin were uncompetitive, the VR-01 was also initially discovered to have too small a fuel tank to finish a race on as refuelling was banned for 2010.
In the summer of 2011 changes began to be implemented, the partnership with Wirth was terminated and a technical agreement was signed with McLaren that would allow the team to use some of the Woking-based outfit’s technology and facilities, especially wind tunnels. At the time of the announcement chief executive Andy Webb commented that making the approach to McLaren in the first instance was a “bold step” in order for the team to achieve their “equally bold ambitions”. Former Renault Technical Director Pat Symonds, despite being still banned from the Formula One paddock for his role in “crash-gate” four years ago, is now actively involved with the technical department after initially acting as a consultant a few months earlier allowing the team to benefit from his many years of experience in the design and construction of race winning cars at “Team Enstone”, with Timo Glock impressed by his input.
A decision was also made to re-locate the team from their original facilities in Dinnington, near Rotherham to Banbury in Oxfordshire, a lot closer to what is often considered to be Motorsport’s “Silicon Valley” as it is an area where many of the British teams are based. By late September there were already signs of progress as a 60% scale model of the car was already completed and ready for running in McLaren’s wind tunnel, however at the same time the team announced that they would not be running KERS in 2012.
Over the winter the team switched its name from Virgin to Marussia with approval by the FIA, the newly-rebranded team planned to run the MR02 at the final pre-season test in Barcelona until the car failed a mandatory FIA crash test. The team withdrew from the test and were put on the back-foot going into the first race at Melbourne with no mileage cruicial on their new car apart from a shakedown at Silverstone. HRT had also once again failed to run their new car in pre-season however unlike the Spanish based team Marussia managed to pull out the stops to successfully get both cars well within the 107% lap time to qualify for the race and from thereon Glock drove steadily to finish fourteenth only a single lap down with rookie Charles Pic being classified fifteenth despite an oil pressure failure five laps from home, a commendable effort.
The team took a blow in the lead-up to the British Grand Prix when Spaniard Maria de Villota crashed into the tailgate of a lorry in a straight line test at Duxford Airfield, after which she lost the use of one of her eyes. It shook the whole team and the Formula One community and some people have often criticised the placement of the truck as the root cause, however it is hardly the right situation to argue over “who did what to who” and the team has professionally carried on with its job. Since the surgery de Villota has bravely stood up to her fate and has been making an good recovery without any neurological damage to her, this however once again is a reminder that Motorsport is and always will be dangerous, that’s what it says on the ticket.
Marussia have a good driver pairing at their disposal, Timo Glock was impressive in his Toyota days often showing his talents during the race and being able to deliver quick, consistent runs on heavy fuel loads, during the pre-2010 “refuelling era”, allowing him to break into good points scoring positions. Since moving to Virgin it is a shame we have not been able to see him do the same with what he has been given so far, however I have hopes that he will return to the points again, the thirty year-old German has plenty of fight in him yet. His critics feel he missed an opportunity when he had the option to join Renault for 2010 given the cars they have produced however you have to look back to that time when the implications of “crash-gate” were still having an effect on the team and the fact their very future in the sport was in doubt.
Timo Glock delivered the finish ever for Marussia with a 12th at the 2012 Singapore GP.
Rookie Charles Pic, one of three French drivers to have entered the sport this season, has shown good pace and has often been a match for his more established team-mate which is no mean feat. Being a young driver in his first season there are a few rough edges particularly when it comes to being lapped he has held the odd driver up, particularly in Spain when he held up Fernando Alonso, although he is nowhere near as bad as infamous backmarkers throughout the sport’s history.
The technical agreement with McLaren signed last year now appears to be coming to fruition, at the Belgian Grand Prix at the beginning of the month Marussia applied a large aerodynamic upgrade to the MR01, fresh from the McLaren wind tunnel, and it saw improved pace from both cars during the race although Team Principal John Booth revealed that they could have caught the Caterhams had Glock not had an altercation with Pastor Maldonado after the safety car came back in. Also thanks to the improved pace both cars only began to get the blue flags late on in the race with Booth commenting the team aims to increase the time remaining on the lead lap as long as possible and negate the time lost yielding to leading drivers lapping both cars. Although Caterham remain quicker particularly in qualifying it will be interesting to see how much they remain ahead by the close of the season.
Marussia have taken another important step into increasing their competitiveness for the future recently by striking a deal with Williams to use their KERS units. This will allow the MR02 to gain an extra three or four tenths of a second per lap and will be of great use to them once they overcome the inevitable challenges of installing the device and ensuring it runs reliably although Williams will be on hand to offer assistance having gone through the same motions in 2011. With the team now heading in the right direction, and making gains they could very well be the team, between them, Caterham and HRT, to break into the points for the first time if they continue in that direction and Caterham continue to fall short on their high expectations.
Charles Pic leads Timo Glock during the Belgian GP.