Marussia has ousted contracted 2013 driver Luiz Razia, replacing him with the Ferrari-linked Jules Bianchi just two weeks before the new season.
Rookie Brazilian Razia, who was conspicuously absent at recent winter testing, reportedly lost the crucial backing of a Swiss sponsor. “Having made clear the basis on which we must operate in 2013, we had no alternative but to remain true to the principles which we had identified as being key to securing our long term future,” said team boss John Booth.
Frenchman Bianchi only just emerged on the market, having hoped to secure the Force India seat now occupied by F1 returnee Adrian Sutil.
The news is a clear sign Marussia will be Ferrari-powered in 2014, with its existing supplier Cosworth set to leave the sport at the end of the season.
Indeed, Ferrari said in a statement it will continue to “provide him (Bianchi) all our support, compatible with the needs of his new team”.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have revealed that their respective teams might struggle to fight for victory in Melbourne in two weeks.
Ferrari’s Alonso admitted to British broadcaster Sky that the pace of the new F138 is “a little bit behind the top teams”.
And McLaren’s Button said the MP4-28 is “not quite there in terms of pace”.
Their words reinforces the feeling that Red Bull and Lotus are leading the field, but Button also said: “One team that has been consistently quick on their runs, more than anyone else, is the Mercedes.”