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Bianchi key to Marussia engine deal?
1 May 2013
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 and Renault 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.
“I applauded the FIA in that they anticipated the problem and I think they took a very pragmatic approach to it. The whole thing of recovering energy from heat as well as kinetic energy is a great idea and something we really will lead on and develop a lot of new stuff - but the engines are going to be expensive.
“We're going from one extreme to another. [Renault-powered] Caterham are probably paying a lot more for their engine and KERS than we are and still have to take a hike up for the 2014 engines. But, for us, it's a very significant fraction of our budget.”
Symonds is also frustrated by the fact that Marussia's most promising car to date, the current MR02 – will be abandoned in favour of preparation for 2014.
"The workload [is] immense for the big teams and even harder for us - and, like it or not, we've got to finish development work on the MR02 in a few weeks' time,” he confirmed, “We just haven't enough people to leave the design of the  car late. And it's a very difficult design problem, so unlike the current car, so there are so many areas we have to do fundamental research on.
"At the moment, I'd say the last bits we'll really bring to the  car will be around Silverstone time. The big teams will be developing later, but that's aerodynamically: I am hoping we have a few little tricks up our sleeve later in the year, which are some of the bits we could carry through to 2014."