Marussia, Caterham miss out on Melbourne points

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The feared reliability woes heading into the Australian Grand Prix meant, in theory at least, that the door was open for the Marussia and Caterham teams to finally score their first World Championship points.

Problem was, of the seven cars that failed to reach the checkered flag, two of the four cars from the tail-ender teams were included, and one made it home too many laps down. But not all was lost after an at-times promising weekend.

Kamui Kobayashi made it into Q2 for Caterham although his race quickly went awry when he contacted Felipe Massa’s Williams at Turn 1 on the opening lap.

Through the first couple laps, rookie teammate Marcus Ericsson actually ran ahead of four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull before Vettel retired. Ericsson completed a nice pass of Adrian Sutil’s Sauber and had his first successful live pit stops before retiring at the halfway mark due to an oil pressure issue.

“We still showed a bit of the potential we have in the first laps of the first stint when I passed Sutil and was running well in 12th,” said the Swede. “My first ever live pit stop a Grand Prix went really well but then unfortunately an oil pressure problem forced us to stop – we don’t know what caused that yet but if we hadn’t had that I think we’d have finished ahead of the Marussias as I was pretty comfortable ahead of (Max) Chilton until the issue.”

And to the Marussias, considering their at-time rocky preseason, two finishes was almost something of a surprise. Chilton wound up best on the road in 13th after qualifying 17th, and ahead of teammate Jules Bianchi on Saturday for only the second time in his career. Chilton, too, was ahead of Vettel at one stage.

Bianchi’s weekend was tough as his car stalled on the grid for an aborted start, and he’d need to start with his teammate on pit lane. Despite missing the first six laps, he resumed and made it to the flag, albeit an unclassified 14th.

“The problem at the start was really quite worrying and I did not expect to be able to race, but the team got me to the garage and fought hard to get me back on track,” said Bianchi, who many regard as a star-in-waiting.

“I was six laps down when I did rejoin and of course I was never going to recover from that, but that was not the point. Being in the race – and finishing it – enabled us to gather the maximum amount of information and test various strategies for maximizing the power unit.”

Added team principal John Booth, “It was a heart-stopping start to our race, to say the least, but the way we recovered from the issues we experienced with both cars was very pleasing and ultimately we achieved our objective of a two-car finish.”

The teams head to Malaysia next, where a year ago Bianchi’s 13th place finish proved the result that netted Marussia the 10th place spot in the Constructor’s Championship ahead of Caterham.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.