Formula 1 can be a cruel mistress at the best of times, especially when you’re scrapping at the back of the grid. Caterham’s demise and difficulties over the past few months have been well documented, but just up the grid, Marussia appears to be only on the rise.
The Anglo-Russian team has been Caterham’s closest competitor throughout their time together in Formula 1, and hadn’t really moved above them until this season. Although Marussia finished one place ahead of Caterham last year, it had trailed behind for all but three of the races; Jules Bianchi made it count when the team had the pace to secure P13 in Malaysia.
Once again in 2014, it was Bianchi who made waves for the team, scoring its first ever points at the Monaco Grand Prix after finishing ninth. It is hardly surprising that he is being linked with a move up the grid, perhaps even to parent team Ferrari.
However, it’s really a question of trying to fit in somewhere else. The Frenchman is undoubtedly a star in the making, and has his sights set on a future for the works team at Maranello. The rumors concerning the future of both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen continue to circulate, but is he really ready to make such a leap up the grid?
Maybe he is. During his test for Ferrari at Silverstone last month, he put in a very impressive display and finished the day as the quickest driver. However, as he explained to us after the run-out, he is not expecting a call-up for 2015.
“At the moment I know that it is not the plan for the next year because they have a plan for their drivers,” he said. “I will just focus on what I have to do which is Marussia at the moment and try to get good results.”
And he’s certainly been doing that. Ferrari’s ‘plan’ for 2015 is quite obvious: Alonso and Raikkonen. However, if Fernando does choose to move to McLaren, or if Kimi is given the heave-ho one year early, Bianchi would undoubtedly be in the running for a seat.
So where else could Bianchi go? He looked to be a shoe-in at Force India for the 2013 season (even in his own eyes) until engine supplier Mercedes leaned on the team to hire German driver Adrian Sutil. The only way back there may be if Nico Hulkenberg is snapped up by Ferrari as a replacement for either of its drivers, and Bianchi can secure a place alongside Sergio Perez. Of course, this is all hypothetical: Vijay Mallya has made clear that he wants to hang onto both of his drivers for 2015.
Sauber may be another option with its own Ferrari engine deal, but with five drivers already scrapping over two seats, it could prove to be a bit of an impossibility.
In reality, Bianchi’s future depends largely on how Ferrari wants to play it with Alonso and Raikkonen. The latter has already made his intention to retire after the 2015 season clear, so the long-term (well, two year) plan may be to bring Bianchi to Maranello then. You would have to feel that if either Kimi or Fernando did jump or be pushed now, it would be Hulkenberg to get the nod. He came within a signature of a seat at Ferrari last season; maybe Raikkonen wasn’t the best option after all…
Whatever his future, Bianchi looks to be on the right track to make it at Maranello. The saturation of drivers in the sport at the moment means that it can be difficult to find a seat; a happy medium for Ferrari that is a step between Marussia and Maranello.
As Marussia continues to grow and develop though, it may be the right place for him. What’s next for Bianchi? Most probably more of the same for 2015. Silly season has a knack of not being as easy to call as that, though; a surprise could yet be sprung.