Eddie Jordan was bang on the money yet again. The loud-shirt wearing BBC pundit, managed to get whiff of a story that (as many in the Sett suspected) would be confirmed sooner rather than later. Young GP2 starlet, pin-up and testing/reserve driver, Max Chilton is to fill the 2nd Marussia seat alongside incumbent German, Timo Glock.
This move is not a massive surprise, and when Charles Pic was confirmed at Caterham back in late November, the Reigate man had his foot firmly in the door (and cockpit) of the Anglo-Russian outfit.
Now, this Badger doesn’t want to cast aspersions on drivers who come with a hefty sum of sponsorship cash (which drivers don’t?), but I suspect that Chilton’s association with Insurance giants Aon Group, of whom father Grahame is vice-chairman, may have had something to do with his rise into the motor-racing elite.
In 2009 Grahame Chilton bought Carlin Motorsport, who Max drove for in 2011 and 2012, and Aon (as well as Marussia) are currently sponsors of the GP2 outfit. They are also sponsors of brother Tom’s World Touring car team, imaginatively named “Team Aon”. It won’t come as a shock if we see Aon plastered high and wide on the side of the MR02 when the covers are pulled off next year. One could speculate as to whether Chilton senior could step into the breach if/when the Russians get bored with their ailing F1 pet project. Tom and Max racing in the same team perhaps?
But who have Marussia sold their seat to? Are they buying the next Lewis Hamilton, or the next Narain Karthikeyan?
Max has been through the traditional channels on his way into F1. Starting in karting at 10, he moved to the saloon car based T Cars championship where he finished 2nd to Luciana Barcheta, despite winning more races. After 2 somewhat underwhelming years cutting his teeth in British Formula 3, he moved to Carlin’s F3 team in 2009 and started showing potential, winning one race, and gaining a further five podiums. He also managed to take home the Mirror.co.uk British F3 Challenge Cup, awarded to the top British driver in F3 that year.
A move to GP2 beckoned, where he first headed to GP2 Asia team Barwa, followed by ex-Jordan and Spyker driver, Tiago Monteiro, offering him a seat at his Ocean Racing Technology team. 20 rounds and 3 points later, Max finished 24th out of 32 drivers.
Carlin’s move into GP2 in 2011 saw them recruit Max to one of the seats. 4 points were yielded, outperforming 2 out of the team’s 3 other drivers that season, but still only finishing 20th overall. Despite this, Max attracted the attention of Force India, with a straight line test being followed by a much coveted spot in that year’s Abu Dhabi Young Driver test where he clocked up the 5th fastest time.
In 2012 his form improved dramatically. 15 points finishes, including 2 wins and one further podium (and poles in Italy and Hungary) improved his reputation and attracted further attention of F1 bosses. At Abu Dhabi this year, he took part in FP1 for Marussia clocking in a time one second behind that of Glock, but ahead of the HRT of Ma Qing Hua.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Is he the right man for the job? It’s tricky to say. He has never really set the world alight with his racing results, but has shown glimpses of potential, especially in his last season at GP2. If Marussia can extract that form from him, and improve on a car that has been more than a little disappointing, then they may help nurture a young British talent into the F1 stable.
Have Marussia got themselves a star in the making?