The second Mid-Season Review regards the young Frenchman Jules Bianchi. Following his disappointment at missing out on the Force India seat, Jules snapped up the opportunity to drive alongside Max Chilton at Marussia, as Luiz Razia lost his conditional placement due to financial complications. Fortunately for the team, their late replacement has so far proved a vital asset in the team’s fierce battle against Caterham. Here is an evaluation of Bianchi’s season so far…
Bianchi’s season was a rollercoaster ride even before Melbourne itself. The Frenchman was widely tipped to replace the departing Hulkenberg at Force India for much of the winter, yet Adrian Sutil was always in the running to make a return to the team. Following his season as development driver, Bianchi appeared to be a strong option, with excellent performances during the Young Drivers Test which raised his profile. Force India delayed their decision until late February, with veteran Adrian Sutil snatching the placement, leaving a disconsolate Bianchi seemingly without a 2013 drive.
However, such is the speed of Formula One, the Frenchman discovered new hope almost immediately. Marussia’s initial driver line-up consisted of Max Chilton and Luiz Razia. However, Razia’s absence from the Barcelona test prompted a media storm regarding the Brazilian’s position at the team. Reports later confirmed the widespread belief; Razia’s sponsors which Marussia had relied upon, had failed to provide the promised cash, with an innocent Razia loosing his seat before the season had even begun. Consequently, the team needed a solid replacement and a quick solution. Just 48 hours after his blunt dismissal by Force India, Jules Bianchi was confirmed as the new Marussia driver and given a seat fitting on the very same night. The issues regarding Razia were seemingly a blessing in disguise, as the signing of Bianchi has undoubtedly supported the team on and off the circuit.
Bianchi’s record so far is outstanding. While greater testing experience has abetted his cause, the Frenchman has dominated his teammate Max Chilton on both Saturday’s and Sunday’s, as well as frequently topping the Caterham duo. Jules’ best finish came at the Malaysian Grand Prix, where he converted a positive P19 on the grid into a P13 finish. His performance on the Saturday saw him qualify a mere 0.7s away from a well deserved spot in Q2. While a recent lapse in results have been in correlation with a downturn in car development, his efforts have been recognised by the top teams, especially Ferrari, as Jules is a strong member of their Young Driver Development Programme. He has frequently expressed his desire to join the historic outfit in the future and is demonstrating the talent required to be a success at Maranello.
In terms of his race craft, Jules has been impeccable this season unlike his fellow rookies Giedo Van Der Garde and Esteban Gutierrez, who have clocked television time for the wrong reasons. Bianchi has only suffered two retirements, both of which due to factors outside of his control. The first came in Monaco, as terminal brake issues ended his race prematurely, with his second retirement coming at Germany. His fiery exit at the Nurburgring was a result of a gearbox malfunction and is best remembered for when his car rolled backwards down the track following the incident. Other than these car related failures, Jules is yet to suffer mistake driven races which is a resounding positive at this early stage in his career.
In terms of the rest of Jules’ season, it may be a nine race stint filled with trials, tribulations and disappointments. Despite his ability, it is unlikely that the team will be able to maintain strength in the development race, following the departure of influential consultant Pat Symonds and compounded by the team’s evident financial constraints. Moreover, the latest switch to the 2012 construction has suited Caterham, to the detriment of Marussia. However, if anyone can salvage Marussia’s season and secure their first points, its Jules Bianchi!