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Marussia's rookies keep their heads above water
16 March 2013
The drenched Albert Park circuit in Melbourne proved treacherous for even the biggest names in F1 in qualifying on Saturday at Melbourne ahead of the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Mark Webber all had their scares and lucky escaped during a fraught 20 minute session.
You'd have expected Marussia's Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton to have been among those making an unwelcome impact on the scenery at some point in Q1, but instead the F1 rookies kept their heads and put in accomplished performances despite the inclement conditions.
"It was a big ask of two rookie drivers to face a qualifying session like the one we've experienced today," agreed Marussia team principal John Booth. "But then we have absolute faith in our line-up and that has been rewarded today. Both Jules and Max performed admirably in what must have been very daunting conditions, and we are very pleased with where we find ourselves today," he added.
“I'm pretty pleased with how today has gone when you look at the circumstances," said Chilton. "I hadn't really expected to be sitting in the garage for 30 minutes seeing a river forming on the track outside when I'd contemplated my first F1 qualifying experience. With that in mind, I'm really encouraged with how we fared."
Chilton at least had the advantage of having driven the MR02 in the wet in pre-season testing in Spain. For Jules Bianchi, signed by the team at the last minute after an earlier deal with Luiz Razia fell through, it really was a case of being thrown in right at the deep end of the Melbourne swimming pool.
"These were very challenging conditions for my qualifying début, especially as none of my limited pre-season testing experience with the team was in the wet," admitted Bianchi. "I can't deny it was disappointing - and a little daunting!
"Yesterday's dry running showed a lot of promise so it would have been nice to get a better feel for where we are in performance terms, but we just had to make the best of it," he continued. "In the end though I am very happy with the job we did today and where we have ended up."
Bianchi actually finished ahead of his team mate and both of the Caterham drivers, who both had accidents during the session. That gives the Frenchman first blood on the 'battle of the back row' and means that he will start Sunday's Australian Grand Prix from 19th place on the grid.
"We ended up in the right place relative to the cars around us, both ahead of Caterham and close to the cars ahead," said Bianchi. "I look forward to a return to dry conditions, which is what we hope to see tomorrow, and to my first F1 Grand Prix.
"To be honest, whatever the weather brings, this is an exciting moment for me - one I have been looking forward to for a long time," he added.
In Chilton's case, the young English driver admitted that he'd hoped to fare a little better than he had ended up.
"With the conditions starting to clear a little in the dying minutes of the Q1 session I knew everything hinged on that final lap," he said. "We were improving in each sector so I knew we would be okay, it's just a little disappointing that my last lap was affected by the yellow flag."
Neither driver will take part in Q2 and Q2, due to be completed on Sunday morning at 11am local time (midnight GMT) and so they can enjoy a fairly standard build-up to the starting grid, while 16 drivers ahead of them have to gird themselves for more qualifying runs in the meantime.
"Now my thoughts turn to tomorrow and I can't wait, rain or shine," said Chilton.
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