Despite the setbacks of losing 10th in the Constructors Championship to Caterham at the final race of the 2012 season and having to release one of the team’s best assets, Timo Glock, Marussia are carrying right on from where they left off at the end of last season. From the post summer break onwards the now Banbury-based outfit took advantage of key upgrades, brought about by the team’s technical arrangement to use McLaren’s wind tunnels in Woking, to haul in their green and yellow rivals in terms of race pace.

For the first time since its inception in 2010, as Virgin Racing, the team has begun the pre-season build up on the right foot and brought it’s latest challenger, the Cosworth powered MR02, to the first test in Jerez. Despite not getting in as much running as hoped for, due to various reliability gremlins and niggles, the team managed to cover over 1,000 kilometres of track time, a remarkable improvement over last season when the team turned up in Australia with the car having hardly turned a wheel. With Technical Consultant Pat Symonds having provided vital input, the car appears to be a ‘solid base’ for the team to work on, according to the well-respected Gary Anderson, the man responsible for penning such cars as the Jordan 191 in which Michael Schumacher made his Formula One debut in.

This season’s MR02 may, on first appearances, not look radically different from its predecessor, however the most notable difference between both cars is the inclusion of KERS, the first time it has been included in the Banbury-based outfits cars, courtesy of a deal the team struck with Williams to use their KERS devices. Not only have the former Champions during the 1980′s and 1990′s provided the units, but also they have provided guidelines and assistance to Marussia in the installation and also packaging of them as well. Throughout the second half of last season Caterham had their KERS devices to thank for in order to consistently qualify ahead of their back-of-the-grid rivals, including HRT at the time, thanks to the extra 3 to 4 tenths of a second the kinetic energy powered units provided in a single qualifying lap. Now Marussia have KERS power, it will almost certainly give them a more than reasonable chance of regularly being quicker than Caterham.

On the drivers front it’s all change with the aforementioned Glock having been let go and Charles Pic having defected to Caterham. In their place come 21-year-old Max Chilton of Great Britain, younger brother of Touring Car driver Tom and son of AON Chairman Grahame, and 23-year-old Brazilian Luis Razia. Both of them representing a large cluster of drivers set to start their first Grand Prix next month in Australia. Both Chilton and Razia have stepped up from GP2 with the latter having finished the season runner up to Davide Valsecchi. Dropping Glock will have been one of the most difficult and painful decisions for Team Principal John Booth to make, given his calibre and experience of having driven for the then more competitive Toyota team, with sponsorship ever increasingly hard to come by the team has had to take on two rookies with substantial personal backing.

Whilst it is difficult to really know who appeared to be quickest at the first test in Jerez, here is an interesting piece of information. We may not know who was running on what fuel, however on the Friday afternoon, after Gutierrez carried out a race simulation, Razia took to the track and matched his lap times, even more significantly they were quicker than what Mercedes was managing at that point. Inconclusive, however it does represent the steps forward that Marussia have, and continue to show. If the MR02 is indeed faster than the CT03, where does it lie in relation to the Toro Rosso STR8 and the Force India VJM06.

References:

‘Marussian evolution’, Gary Anderson, Autosport, Pages 32 and 33 (07/02/2013)

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