Jules Bianchi believes that the Marussia F1 team can take steps forward in his second season behind the wheel, beginning at next weekend's Australian Grand Prix.
The French ace, who only joined the team on the eve of the 2013 campaign, showed enough personal potential to be linked with bigger things for this year, but was among the first drivers to commit to his 2014 seat by opting to remain with the Banbury squad.
Since then, his focus has been on helping Marussia build on its surprise tenth place in last year's constructors' standings and, hopefully, scoring its first points in four years of trying. Forced to ditch its Cosworth engines due to the new rules introduced for 2014, the minnow finds itself in a promising new relationship with Ferrari and, while pre-season testing did not go to plan, Bianchi remains positive in his outlook.
“I am very excited to finally be starting the new season,” he admitted, “It has been a very interesting winter preparing for this, and I can't wait to see where we stand versus the competition.”
Bianchi's best lap from the final Bahrain test, while not to be taken as a true representation of Marussia's potential due to the different programmes and problems affecting its rivals, put him ahead of not only the team's direct rival Caterham, but also both Lotus drivers and world champion Sebastian Vettel, all of whom struggled with ongoing reliability worries. Ignoring that, however, the Frenchman is confident that Marussia can show signs of moving up in 2014.
“The car feels good to drive and, especially in Bahrain last week, we saw a little more of its true potential,” he reported, “There is a lot of work still to do to start getting the most from it, but I feel quite optimistic about our chances to improve this year.
“It has not been easy for a small team like ours as we do not have the same resources as the bigger teams, but I think we can be proud of the job that we have done in comparison and now I am looking forward to delivering some reward for that hard work. Our first objective for Melbourne is to enjoy a reliable race, but I hope we can create some opportunity for ourselves along the way.”
The move to Ferrari power has special resonance for Bianchi, who remains a part of the Scuderia's development programme, and looks like being a smart one in terms of the comparative woes being suffered elsewhere.
“The 2014 season has presented some incredibly demanding and fascinating challenges, with the introduction of a completely new power unit,” Mattia Binotto, deputy director of Ferrari's engine and electronics department, confirmed, “We have also had to deal with the extra responsibility of welcoming the Marussia F1 team as a new addition to our customer teams, [but] we like challenges and we are happy with the way the partnership has begun.
“We have found a team that is keen to grow and to prove that, with the new Ferrari power unit, is capable of making a substantial step forward in terms of its level of competitiveness. I feel the indications that came out of pre-season testing have been positive in this regard and I was pleased to see a sense of satisfaction in the Marussia garage at the performance they produced on the final day of Bahrain testing. It's definitely a good omen for Melbourne, when things start to get serious.”