Jules Bianchi's position at Marussia could be the key to the Banbury squad's engine supplier for next season, according to technical director Pat Symonds.
The Frenchman, hired at short notice when Luiz Razia's sponsorship fell through, has wowed onlookers with his performances over the opening four races of 2013. Previously though to be a little erratic, Bianchi has regularly led the 'division three' battle between Marussia and Caterham, while attempting to nip at the heels of the established midfield runners.
While his achievements have naturally caught the eye of those further up the grid, the Ferrari
protégé could yet prove crucial when it comes to Marussia inking a replacement for current engine partner Cosworth, which won't be continuing into 2014 under the latest regulations governing powerplant design.
With F1 switching to turbocharged 1.6-litre V6s from the start of next season, the teams are expected to have to choose between Mercedes, Ferrari
power, and Symonds admits that Marussia's options are already narrowing to a choice between two, rather than three.
“Renault have made it clear they've got enough on their plate,” he told Sky Sports
, “Both Ferrari
and Mercedes have been very positive with us. I say [a deal] is near because, if it's not, then we're not going to have a car. My original target for getting a 2014 engine deal was the end of May... but it was the end of May 2012, so we are behind where we want to be."
With Bianchi originally thought to be heading for a seat at Force India, the Silverstone team found itself at the centre of rumours concerning a possible switch for Mercedes to Ferrari
power, but Adrian Sutil's return has led to a strengthening of ties to the former, while Bianchi's signing by Marussia has opened doors to the minnow.
"It absolutely hasn't done us any harm,” Symonds confirmed, “It's brought us a little bit closer to Ferrari, but Ferrari
genuinely wants more teams because everything is so new. I hesitate to call us guinea pigs or anything like that, but it's better to have a few more samples of your product out there, finding out what goes wrong and what's working. I think that they wanted another team anyway, and the contact through Jules has done nothing but help."
Praising Cosworth for what it achieved on a limited budget, Symonds is aware that the change of rules for 2014 – which covers more than just engines – is not going to come cheap for a small team like Marussia. While he is happy to see F1 being proactive when it comes to making changes for 'green' reasons, he
“I was very concerned that one day people would turn on motorsport,” he said of the environmental movement, “It's the 'fur coat syndrome' - you can't wear a fur coat these days and time will come when you can't use copious amounts of fuel.