As the Formula One world breathes a collective sigh of relief and takes a moment to relax during the summer break, the battle for the drivers’ championship could already be over. Sebastian Vettel currently enjoys a 38 point lead over Kimi Raikkonen, and it wasn’t until this point last season that the German driver began to break into his stride.
However, one war that is guaranteed to rumble on until the end of the season concerns the two smallest teams in Formula One: Caterham and Marussia. Despite both teams being in their fourth season, neither has scored a point and at times entire grands prix can pass by with little more than a blue-flag appearance on the TV for the minnows. In many ways though, 2013 has been a landmark year for both teams, setting the stage for a tight second half of the season at the back of the grid.
In the last three years, the accepted ‘pecking order’ has read “Caterham-Marussia-HRT”, with the third team on that list folding at the end of last season. Therefore, when Marussia began the season by comfortably beating Caterham in the first three races, there was a feeling that something had changed at the back. Led by Ferrari starlet Jules Bianchi, it appeared that Marussia could finally pose a threat to Caterham and seize P10 in the constructors’ championship by the throat.
Nothing in Formula One is ever that simple though. Come Bahrain, the tables had turned in emphatic fashion as Charles Pic not only trounced both Marussias, but he also led home Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez to cap off a remarkable performance. In Spain, Pic finished just one place behind Valtteri Bottas, with the Finn behind the wheel of the car that won the very same grand prix in 2012, marking a total reversal in fortunes for Williams. Since then, the battle has been dominated by Caterham with the team’s performance in Hungary (P14 and P15) seeing the gap to Marussia grow to a season high.
However, without finishing any higher that 13th, it means very little for Caterham. Time is no longer on the side of Leafield-based team with half the season gone and just nine shots at P12 remaining. Undoubtedly, it will be the grands prix with high rates of attrition that will give Caterham the best chance of trumping Marussia – a fact that Marussia proved last season as Timo Glock took advantage of a disrupted Singapore Grand Prix to finish 12th. This appeared to seal P10 for the team last season only for another retirement-heavy race in Brazil to allow Vitaly Petrov to finish P11 for Caterham on-track, overtaking Charles Pic (then of Marussia) late on.
For Caterham, time is slowly running out if the team is to surpass Marussia, but it promises to be one of the most interesting battles in the second half of 2013.