Can Manor qualify in Australia

Now that Manor have passed the FIA crash tests with their modified 2014 chassis the big question is will they be able to qualify for the opening races. With every other team bringing a 2015 car just how far off the pace will a backmarker car from last season be. The FIA rules state that the driver must be within 107% of the fastest time on Q1 in order to be classified as a qualifier. There are some ways in which the team could qualify if due to adverse weather conditions or other cases of force majeure they fail to lap fast enough, but to do this they must have shown adequate pace through free practice.

In an article earlier this week I tried to calculate a likely pole time for the opening race, based on the amount of development shown during last season and in pre-season testing. This suggested that a pole time of high 1 minute 28.7 seconds should be possible. 107% of this time would be 1 minute 34.9 seconds. Fortunately the fastest Marussia time set during the Australian GP weekend (qualifying was wet) was 1 minute 33.486 by Jules Bianchi, and Max Chilton was able to set a 1 minute 34.717. Provided the modifications necessary to meet the new 2015 regulations haven’t slowed the car at all, and the drivers the team get are as least as competent as Bianchi and Chilton, then it should be possible to qualify.

A couple of other things will aid the team:
– the times set by the front runners in Q1 are usually some way off the pole time, as they will typically run on the slower tyre in Q1, saving the faster tyre for the late stages of qualifying, and they may not be using full power in Q1 to try and disguise their ultimate pace from some of their rivals in different teams;
– the Marussia chassis may have been towards the back all season, but it did develop during the year. The graph below shows the compartive pace to the front running Mercedes (and the Force India that was used as a reference in the last article).

Marussia - Mercedes 2014

I think it is accepted that Mercedes definitely developed during last season, yet Marussia managed to improve from being 5% behind them at the early races to only 3% behind by Spa.   Although by Japan the team had fallen to 4.8% behind the leading team, this was still closer than they were at the beginning of the year, so they could be said to be keeping track with the field. The drop off in performance at the Russian GP to 5.4% behind Mercedes can be explained by the loss of the team’s lead driver and the undoubted pressure put on the remaining team members. While the remaining teams will have continued to develop over the final three races and over the winter, but the figures don’t support that they have moved more than 1.6% ahead of their performance in Russia.

I think it is likely that Manor will be able to qualify, but they will be significantly slower than the rest of the field.

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