Sport : F1

Marussia

27th February 2014, 08:42am

Marussia still have no points to their name after four seasons of F1 but there are reasons for optimism heading into 2014 after a year of progress on and off the track.

On it 2013 represented the Banbury-based outfit's best result yet as they beat rivals Caterham to tenth place in the Constructors' Championship, unlocking crucial financial and travel perks in the process. That progress up the order went hand-in-hand with two significant off-track developments: the signing of a Ferrari powertrain deal and belated bilateral agreement on commercial terms with Bernie Ecclestone.

With their F1 future secure, and with the impressive Jules Bianchi likely to improve further in his second year in the sport, Marussia are now targeting the opportunities presented by such significant technical changes to finally break away from the back of the field.

They may be owned by a Russian sportscar company but at the heart of the team remains dyed-in-the-wool racer John Booth, whose hugely successful Manor Motorsport operation was the basis for the team's F1 entry in 2010.

Established in 1990, a string of future F1 stars passed through the Manor ranks in the junior formula, including future World Champions Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton.

Initially entering F1 with sponsorship from Richard Branson's Virgin brand, the team was launched in conjunction with former Benetton and Simtek technical chief Nick Wirth and famously pioneered an all-computational fluid dynamics (CFD) car design with the VR-01.

However, the new squad suffered huge embarrassment in their early races when it was discovered that the car's fuel tank was too small. Coupled with other reliability problems, the team didn't record a two-car finish until a new chassis was pressed into service at the start of the European season.

Wirth had continued to enthusiastically champion the CFD method despite a disappointing series of results into 2011, which only saw Virgin fall further away from Caterham (then Team Lotus) and the two parties eventually parted company. In response, former Renault engineering chief Pat Symonds came on board as a consultant and the team soon signed a technical deal with McLaren.

Virgin's reliability record greatly improved in 2011, but on-track performances failed to do so and they actually slipped into the clutches of HRT. There appeared little to smile about at the start of 2012 either as the now Marussia-branded team missed all of the official winter tests following a failed crash test with the new MR-01.

However, things did steadily get better thereafter and Timo Glock's attrition-assisted 12th place finish in Singapore moved them ahead of Caterham in the standings. But although Marussia's progress was confirmed when both of their cars belatedly outqualified the Caterhams for the first time ever in Austin, Vitaly Petrov's late overtake of Charles Pic in the rain of Interlagos swung things back the other way.

Having joined the team at its inception from big-spending Toyota, the experienced Glock was then a casualty of the financial pressures at Banbury, with the team entering 2013 with an all-rookie-line up of Ferrari youngster Bianchi and Britain's Max Chilton. However, with Caterham effectively running only an updated 2012 chassis at the start of the new season, Marussia held an immediate upper hand - outqualifying and outracing their perennial rivals at the season's first three rounds.

Indeed, in a Malaysian GP in which six cars dropped out, Bianchi's 13th place finish proved telling come the end of the season as it was the best result either Marussia or Caterham achieved all year - meaning that for the first time it was the Banbury team who finished tenth in the standings.

On the track, Caterham continued to generally hold the upper hand thereafter but access to a more competitive Ferrari engine for 2014 could help level up the playing field still further among the backmarkers.

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