Will Gray

Team by team previews: Marussia

Will Gray

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The team formerly known as Virgin enters a new era as Marussia this year — but it's the same old story as pre-season problems leave them still firmly at the back of the pack.

After two years attempting to make an F1 car using only computer simulation and design, former technical director Nick Wirth's unique technique was dismissed, along with his consultancy company, in favour of the traditional wind tunnel testing route.

So now they are following the same design approach as the rest of the grid, how far can the new regime and philosophy take them?

THE NEW LEADER

The arrival of extremely experienced former Renault technical chief Pat Symonds, back in the paddock after leaving under a cloud following the race fixing scandal, brings with it great expectations.

A meticulous and extremely talented engineer, Symonds has been a championship winner with both Michael Schumacher (in the Benetton days) and Fernando Alonso (when leading the technical team at Renault).

Coupled with Symonds' arrival, a technical partnership with McLaren should make a difference — and the level of that influence is perhaps demonstrated by the fact the Marussia is the only other F1 car to not feature a stepped nose.

Symonds believes it was only poor aero that was holding the 2011 Virgin back and claims the mechanical design deserved better than the backmarker spot the team achieved — something demonstrated by the fact it was closer to other cars in slow corners than it was in fast ones.

Given that the team employs about 170 people compared to about 650 for Red Bull and 550 for Lotus and Mercedes, however, there is a gulf of difference between what Symonds is used to working with and what he has now.

His new task calls for a very different set of skills and, like a great top-of-the-league football manager may not make a successful battler for a basement club, he could get frustrated if he finds himself paddling against the tide - much like highly rated Geoff Willis did at rival team HRT.

LACK OF TESTING

The team has already had its first technical disaster, failing one of the many mandatory crash tests — which stopped them taking part in any pre-season testing and left them with just one promotional filming day of running before Australia.

It is typical for teams to push the boundaries in this area so much they can fail one or two times before getting it right, but this year new laws preventing teams from testing before their cars pass the tests made such an error inexcusable.

An unfortunate miscalculation has cost the team some valuable running time — and although closest rivals HRT also missed all the tests, it was an incident that shows many issues still need to be sorted out at Marussia.

In comparison, fellow 'newcomers' Caterham (formerly Lotus) were the first to launch their car and hit the track for a full feast of testing. They are also the first back-of-the-grid team to add KERS — so there they have another key advantage.

Marussia finished last in 2011 and they are still likely to be battling with HRT rather than Caterham. Like HRT, they have decided against KERS, with team boss John Booth admitting the couple of tenths it would gain them is not worth the risks of it not working when they are "looking for seconds rather than tenths."

The lack of testing will also hinder newcomer Charles Pic, who had his first outing in an F1 car at the young driver test in Abu Dhabi and will arrive in Australia with precious little experience.

So while the new regime, new owner and completely new design approach brings with it new potential for this team, the limitations suggest it's unlikely that this potential will be fulfilled any time soon.

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