Thanks to their Monaco heroics, a team full of character and the diagnosis of ‘Plucky Brit Syndrome’, Marussia F1 have fast become Formula One’s favourite underdogs. Drivers Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi are now well established names in, and around, the paddock (even if one is often light-speed ahead of the other on track), but are the duo likely to be on the move? Let’s investigate.
Since his debut season in the sport in 2013, Bianchi has been hailed as a real talent, outperforming the likes of Chilton and Caterham in quail and race trim, as well as defying his own car’s performance. Talk of a move away for the Ferrari Development Driver were rife this time last season, and since the French ace’s 9th place finish in Monaco this season, his stock price has sky-rocketed. It seems then, that Bianchi is destined for the top, with many tipping him to take the gig at Ferrari in 2016 once Kimi Raikkonen’s mooted retirement is confirmed.
As for Chilton, things perhaps don’t look so rosy. The Brit has been unfortunate in the fact that he’s had to go toe-to-toe at Marussia with the likes of Bianchi since the pair made their debut in the big time at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. Regularly outperformed, off the pace and propping up the time sheets is no way to survive in a Piranha tank such as F1, and with sponsorship issues the catalyst for Alexander Rossi’s FP1 appearance, and flawed nod of the head for a race seat at Spa, providing the biggest warning shot yet that Chilton’s days in F1 are numbered.
With both current drivers potentially headed to pastures new, the team could be facing the prospect of a whole new driver line-up for 2015. Marussia’s options to lie within this year’s GP2 field, with current series leader Jolyon Palmer and Italian prospect Raffaele Marciello leading the way.
Palmer, for one, announced during the British GP weekend that he had already held talks with F1 teams, with the DAMS driver enjoying a strong title charge thus far this season and strong financial backing from Motorsport Vision (owned by his father, Jonathan Palmer), does nothing but aid his argument for a seat in the sport. Palmer Senior has been seen in the paddock this season talking to teams up and down the paddock, Marussia amongst them.
Marciello’s link to Marussia stems from his role as a Ferrari Development Driver, much like Bianchi. ‘Lello’ has enjoyed a season of mixed fortunes in GP2 for Racing Engineering, with a number of mechanical failures and questionable penalties leaving the Italian further away from the championship summit than his pace suggests. Nonetheless, should Bianchi be destined for Ferrari, the Prancing Horse would almost certainly be keen to promote the next product of their youth programme, and in doing so using their technical partnership with Marussia to provide the stepping stone, once more.
Looking at the big picture, now is a good time to be Marussia. A team in a slight ascendency, a driver line-up far from the weakest on the grid, and regardless of Bianchi and Chilton’s fate, a set of drivers’ in-line with Marciello and Palmer that on merit alone belong in an F1 cockpit.