August 24th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - A typical Formula One qualifying session sees two Caterhams, two Marussias and two other cars eliminated at the end of Q1. Almost without fail, the Marussias and Caterhams fill the last two rows on the grid. But not today. In changeable conditions at Spa, the two Marussia drivers joined the Caterham of Giedo van der Garde in progressing to Q2.
It's the first time in 2013 that both Marussias have made it through to Q2, and it had very little to do with the pace of the car. It was all about the team being willing and able to take a gamble at the right time.
There came a point in Q1 when slick tyres were an option on a drying track. Intermediates were arguably still quicker, but the track was drying quickly and there was a chance that slicks could be the right tyres towards the end of the session. Both Marussia drivers took that chance. They decided, together with the team, to put slicks on and see what they could do. And it paid off magnificently: Bianchi set the 11th fastest time in Q1, with Chilton just making it through to Q2 in 16th place.
That was where the fairytale ended, however, as Q2 was dry and therefore the lack of inherent performance in the car showed, with Bianchi and Chilton qualifying 15th and 16th, over four seconds off the pace. But for Marussia, it was enough on the day that they had made strong use of strategy to fight their way through to the second part of qualifying.
Jules Bianchi said after qualifying: “Today is a fantastic result for the Team, who were so happy to be back in Q2. This was a nice feeling for everybody, including myself, as this was also the first Q2 of my F1 career. Things have been steadily improving for us over the weekend and I’m really happy that all the hard work paid off for us today.
"This result was not about luck because everyone was faced with the same dilemma at the end of the Q1 session; whether it might be too dry for the Intermediate tyre or too wet for slicks. On the first lap on the final run it was hard to make up my mind what to do; only the drivers could see what the track condition was really like and it was different from corner to corner. By the end of the lap I had decided just to go for it and stay on the Medium tyre and that gamble was exactly the right call.
Bianchi looked forward to making the most of his grid position in the race: "Tomorrow we line up on the seventh row, which will be a nice moment, but of course we don’t really know what the weather will bring. We have everything to gain and we will make the most of every opportunity.”
Max Chilton was just as enthusiastic as Bianchi after his strong qualifying performance: “What a great day for everyone! Together with Jules I’m so pleased to help put the Team into Q2 again. It was such a tricky qualifying, and as we can see from the classification, it’s difficult to make the right calls at a track where the lap is so long that the conditions are so different from corner to corner.
Chilton reiterated what Bianchi had said about the difficulty of knowing what the right tyre choice was: "When we switched to the dry tyre for the final run I was worried we may have made the wrong call and might have to switch back to the Intermediate but I also knew the track was drying quickly and we could easily make another wrong call by changing back. The engineers put the decision in my hands and I was undecided until the final corner, when I just made a judgment call in an instant and opted to stay out. I’m happy to say it was the right call and we went on to enjoy a strong Q2, when my time was pretty pleasing given that on my final run I was fuelled for two timed laps.
And, just like his team-mate, Chilton is eager to get racing at Spa: "I can’t wait for tomorrow’s race now, rain or shine.”