Bianchi: I thought it was over
5 March 2013
Jules Bianchi says that he thought his dream of landing a full-time F1 race seat had faded for another season when he learned that Adrian Sutil had been given the second Force India entry – and struggled to believe that he could be in contention for the unexpected opening at Marussia.
The Frenchman was taken all the way to the final test of pre-season as Force India prevaricated over its choice of team-mate to Paul di Resta, but was ultimately passed over in favour of the known quantity provided by Sutil, despite the German having spent the entire 2012 season on the sidelines.
Bianchi, of course, was closer to the Force India line-up last year, having served as the official test and reserve pilot behind di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, and believed that he had a strong chance of being promoted to the race team in 2013, particularly with Ferrari backing his bid. However, even with the Scuderia apparently offering a cut-price deal on next year's new V6 engine should the team take its protégé, Force India was swayed by the sponsorship package that Sutil could bring.
Having to watch his rival add to the VJM06's development at the Circuit de Catalunya last week looked to be a painful prospect for Bianchi but, a little further down the pit-lane, trouble was brewing for another would-be graduate and ultimately opened another door for the Frenchman.
“Honestly, I thought it was over,” he reflected in an interview with France's Sport24, “It was a period of ups and downs as we waited for an answer. I had to prepare myself before the bad news came. But then there was this story [about Luiz Razia and Marussia]….
“In my head, I had told myself that I would be having another season as [the] third driver [at Force India], so it was really a great surprise to find myself in contention for the [Marussia] seat.”
Bianchi's confirmation alongside fellow rookie Max Chilton came with just two days of pre-season testing left before the F1 circus prepares for the long haul to Melbourne but, despite the problems that that might entail, the Frenchman insists that he had no qualms about accepting the offer.
“I immediately said 'yes',” he smiled, “I knew it was being discussed, but I did not really believe it [would be possible]. I only really knew that it was good at six o'clock on Friday evening. I could have stayed with Force India as their third driver, but I think I have enough done enough in the lower grades in previous years, and I had to make a step forward. It was my goal, so I did it!”
The 23-year old showed well in his two days behind the wheel of the MR02 in Barcelona, but acknowledges that he is facing a very different season than had he been in the Force India.
“My job now is to move forward and improve the car,” he confirmed, “I felt comfortable and managed to get the car handling well in the first few laps. Obviously, it is a bit different from what I knew before but I came here to work. At least, I know where we can improve with some of the references I have.”
Thanking his manager, Nicolas Todt, as well as Ferrari and the French motorsport federation, Bianchi admitted that he still finds it hard to believe that he will be on the starting grid when the opening round of 2013 rolls around in little over a week's time.
“Ever since I was small and doing karting, I have worked for F1, but it will take me two or three days for this to sink in,” he conceded.