The scrap between Caterham and Marussia for the valuable tenth place in the constructors’ championship provided an engrossing storyline in 2012.
We look set to get a repeat in 2013 as early indications are F1’s newest teams have remained closely matched on pace but aren’t yet on a par with their better-funded rivals. Their fastest times in Jerez were separated by just one tenth of a second.
Max Chilton set Marussia’s fastest time with a run on soft tyres at the end of the third day. “We managed to get a quick new tyre run in, which was really nice for the team so we got to see the actual potential of the car and it went really well,” he told F1 Fanatic.
Caterham did much the same 24 hours later with Charles Pic, who beat Chilton’s effort by 0.121s. But that was over 1.2s off the next slowest car, the 2012 Williams, and a further second off the next.
Both teams have new driver line-ups this year, with Pic joining Caterham from Marussia. He was reluctant to draw comparisons between the two: “I think it’s two young teams who are working very hard to progress,” he said.
The remaining seats are occupied by three rookies who have graduated from GP2. Giedo van der Garde finished sixth last year and partners Pic, who was his team mate in the championship in 2011. Championship runner-up Luiz Razia has joined Chilton at Marussia.
The fact that experienced drivers such as Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock have had to make way for them has provoked fresh debate over the prevalence of “pay drivers” in F1. Marussia made it plain that replacing Glock was a decision taken purely for economic reasons.
Marussia are the first team to head into a season with an all-rookie line-up since HRT three years ago. The lack of experience in their driver line-up is likely to slow their development rate in testing, particularly as they enter their first season using a Kinetic Energy Recovery System.
“I’ve driven five or six days in an F1 car before,” said Chilton when asked about the learning curve he faces in the car. “The hardest part is getting used to all the controls.”
“At the end of the day a car, it doesn’t matter how fast it is, they all handle with understeer or oversteer you just get used to finding the limit pretty quickly. So it’s just learning the controls and obviously it’s the first test, the team have to learn how the car is working and just getting everything set up first.”
Pic had an impressive rookie season at Marussia, pushing Glock hard at times, and Caterham will be relying on him to keep their closest rivals at bay. The CT03 is outwardly similar to its predecessor – starting the season with a reliable car and a more experienced driver could prove decisive for Caterham.
Marussia have made greater changes with their MR02, which is the first car they’ve designed from scratch using a wind tunnel. They can take comfort from the fact they were a match for Caterham on pace without KERS last year. Now they have it a key vulnerability has been removed, though early season reliability will be a concern.
A points finish would feel like a victory for either team. While it’s true they came close in the last race – Caterham 11th, Marussia 12th – that was thanks largely due to an above-average number of retirements.
While getting on terms with the midfield has to be their ultimate goal, it remains to be seen whether it’s realistic for this season. New Caterham team principal Cyril Abiteboul has wisely avoided publicly stating the team are targeting top-ten finishes in the races. For these two teams, finishing in the top ten in the championship is likely to remain the greater concern.
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Image ?é?® Caterham/LAT, Marussia