It was a strange day by anyone’s standards for the Marussia F1 Team, with Alexander Rossi originally scheduled to race in place of Max Chilton alongside Jules Bianchi within the team, but plans changed, and Chilton was back in the car for the second session at Spa-Francorchamps.
Rossi did not find out he was driving in Belgium until Thursday, and had his first time in the car during the first session. He put in a good morning’s work only to be told that Chilton was indeed driving, but he took the news well and is looking forward to the future where more opportunities to drive should come his way.
“The main point for me today is to reiterate my thanks to the Marussia F1 Team for the chance to drive the MR03 for the first time,” said Rossi. “Obviously it’s disappointing not to race, but then I was not aware of the opportunity prior to coming here anyway, so it went away almost as quickly as it arrived. I’m a racing driver, so obviously opportunities to race are welcome, but equally I am part of this Team now and I’m here to do whatever is required of me, and that means taking the rough with the smooth.
“So switching to the positives, I really enjoyed my first free practice session. I felt very comfortable in the car and I’m pleased with my performance considering I have never driven the MR03 prior to today. I got up to speed quite quickly and although this is early days, I hope I have demonstrated to the Team what I can contribute. They seem pleased with my progress and feedback and I look forward to my next FP1 opportunity.”
After originally being announced to be missing Spa due to ‘contractual issues’, Chilton returned to the car for the second free practice session. He praised the work Rossi put in during the first session, and managed to finish eighteenth in the second session.
“It has been good to get back in the car again and to focus on the weekend ahead,” said Chilton. “It was a positive afternoon session for me, picking up the programme from Alex, who ran this morning and did a good job. The car feels better with the changes we have made and I’m sure we can continue to improve the package into tomorrow and have a good race on Sunday, hopefully achieving a strong two-car finish for the Team.”
Team-mate Bianchi had a strong day finishing nineteenth in FP1 and sixteenth in FP2. He was happy with his Friday efforts, and is in a positive frame of mind about the rest of the weekend.
“I’m pleased to finish P16 after a good start to the weekend,” said Bianchi. “It’s always nice to be racing here in Spa, and of course this track has special associations for me, so it’s nice to get back down to the racing here and see positive signs for the days ahead. I am happy with where I finished the day, particularly with respect to the cars around me.”
Team Principal John Booth was positive after getting back on track following the summer break, and praised the work his drivers put in. He paid tribute to the work Rossi put in during the first free practice session, and to how he took the news that Chilton was returning to the team to drive after all.
“We have enjoyed a positive first day back on track after the summer break,” said Booth. “We brought some upgrades that we tested on the seven-post rig before the break and these represent the first reoptimisation of the car without the linked suspension system. These developments reflect a lot of hard work by our Vehicle Performance Group back at the factory and it is very pleasing to see that effort rewarded by a clear improvement in the car. Both drivers are happy with the balance, particularly Jules, and the timesheets clearly demonstrate our performance step.
“All credit to Alexander, who has conducted himself really well today, on and off track. I have been following Alexander since his early junior formula days and I’m proud to have him in our car and on our team. Alexander acquitted himself incredibly well to the MR03 and its systems. Despite a few system glitches that held back his overall lap time, he had a very good practice session and helped the team prepare for FP2. I have huge respect for him and he’s done a tremendous job. It’s not the first time he’s been in a Formula 1 car and it certainly won’t be his last. That I am sure.”