Saddled with the assumption that his place on the F1 grid owes a lot to an indulgent and well-heeled father, Max Chilton will have a lot to prove over his grand prix career.
Coming from a family immersed in the sport, the Briton was always likely to want to try racing, and he duly dipped his toe in the water in the natural proving ground of karting. He started relatively late, at the age of ten rather than the minimum of eight allowed in the UK, and spent two years in the Cadet class before stepping up to more serious machinery, first in Junior TKM, then Junior ICA. In what would become a regular pattern to his career, however, Chilton would waste precious little time in moving up again.
With a collection of Super 1 Series podiums to his credit, the now 14-year old decided that it was time to graduate to car racing, taking advantage of dispensation granted to youngsters looking to take the step by combining his final year of karting with a first foray into saloon car racing via the T-Cars initiative. He spent another two years honing his craft, finishing eighth overall in his debut season before taking the runners-up honours second time around, on the back of a season-high seven race wins.
Determined to make his name in single-seaters – elder brother Tom was already working his way up the touring car ladder towards British and World championship participation – Chilton made perhaps the biggest jump of his career by eschewing the likes of Formula Ford, Formula BMW and Formula Renault to leap straight into F3 – at the still tender age of 16.
His debut actually came on the eve of his 16th birthday as the family sought 24 hours dispensation having already missed the opening round of the season, but Chilton, as expected, was little better than a midfield runner, twice taking his Arena International entry to best finishes of eleventh. Determined to gain as much experience, in as wide a range of cars as possible, he also enjoyed outings in both the US-based Star Mazda single-seater series and the Silverstone 1000km sportscar event – where he partnered his brother to a creditable sixth overall in an Arena entry.
A second season in F3 saw Chilton move to the frontrunning Hitech Racing operation for 2008, showing the benefit of having a year under his belt by claiming pole position at Monza and Rockingham, and taking two podium finishes, although neither was a breakthrough win. He would go on to finish tenth overall in the points.
It was a similar story the next year, where Chilton opted to remain for a third year of F3, but join the crack Carlin Motorsport squad - which would end the season under the umbrella of his father’s Capsicum – claiming four pole positions and two wins, one of which was in the ‘UK class’ as the two series came together in Portugal, en route to fourth place in the standings.
Having already taken in a one-off World Series by Renault outing at Monaco during 2009, and knowing that, realistically, he would be unable to remain in F3 any longer without stalling his pursuit of F1 stardom, Chilton would step up again the following year, but opted for GP2 over Renault 3.5.
Having got a taster of the F1 feeder series racing with Barwa Addax in the GP2 Asia Series, the Briton joined Ocean Racing Technology for the main campaign, taking three points from a brace of finishes at Monza, but being classified only 25th overall. It was a similar story the following year where, despite rejoining Carlin, which had finally graduated to GP2, he scored just on point more and still languished at the wrong end of the top 20 in both the main and Asian series.
However, just as many were writing him off as a well-backed also-ran, Chilton caused a rethink by producing by far his best GP2 season at the third attempt. Unsurprisingly remaining at Carlin, and with the team having completed a tie-up with F1 squad Marussia, the 21-year old secured a maiden podium in round one, before adding a first pole and victory when the series visited the Hungaroring. Solid point-scoring results for much of time between those landmarks – including second place in Monaco - kept Chilton in touch with the championship leaders until the closing stages, before a second victory, at the Singapore finale, cemented fourth overall.
Having already tasted F1 power with Force India during the 2011 ‘young driver’ tests in Abu Dhabi, Carlin’s links with Marussia saw Chilton called on by the Banbury-based team to conduct straight-line runs and demonstrations, and it was no surprise when he was named as its official reserve ahead of the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix. Once installed, it was only a matter of time before Chilton was handed the chance to run in Friday free practice at a grand prix – Marussia picked Abu Dhabi due to his prior experience of the Yas Marina circuit – and the rumours began linking him to a full race seat for 2013.
When Charles Pic was confirmed as moving on to Caterham, the speculation picked up strength, but Chilton was made to wait until early December before finally being confirmed – with the cynics wasting little opportunity to point to the influence of his family backing.
Initially expecting to be partnered by veteran campaigner
Timo Glock, the German’s shock departure in January 2013 not only underlined
Marussia’s dependence on sponsorship for survival, but also gave Chilton
maximum testing time as Luis Razia’s deal fell through and Jules Bianchi was
only signed at the final test.
However, Bianchi was still the one who hit the ground
running and soon marked himself out as the driver who would lead Marussia.
Chilton struggled to match his team-mate’s pace but did prove to be a safe pair
of hands as he set a new record during the season of finishing every race as a
rookie. 2014 will require him to continue closing the gap to Bianchi, and his
performances during his second year in lower formulae hint that he may just be
able to do that.
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