Exclusive Max Chilton Q&A: On Marussia's fight for survival and his own future
The British driver on Marussia's future, the offers he has received from outside F1 for 2015 and the team's season-long financial struggles
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 02/12/14 2:47pm
The plight of Marussia has proved one of Formula 1’s most gut-wrenching stories of the 2014 season.
From the high of scoring their first points in Monaco, the popular team were hit within the space of a grim month by Jules Bianchi’s horrific accident in the Japanese GP followed by news the company had gone into administration.
As a result, Marussia missed the final three rounds of the season and their future is on the line heading into the winter. Sky Sports Online caught up with Max Chilton ahead of his appearance on The F1 Show to discuss the events of recent weeks, where Marussia’s troubles leave his racing career for 2015, and why the success of British motorsport is not yet translating into more seats on the F1 grid.
For several reasons, it’s been a traumatic few months for you and the team since Japan. Firstly, just how are things?
Max Chilton: “It’s been a very difficult time for the team, made worse by the situation the team’s going through themselves. We did well to get through the week after the accident and get to Russia, I think we handled that weekend pretty well, considering.
“Then obviously after that we started going into administration and it’s been pretty tough since. We have been working on deals, we have been for quite a long time, and the team have been very close a number of times. But there’s a point where you have to call in the administrator. He’s doing his best but then obviously now there’s a point where, if he can’t see an outcome, then you have to then put it into liquidation. But we’re hoping we can stay away from that.
“He’ll try his best and the team will try their best to get some investors because now we’ve got ninth [in the Constructors’ Championship] that’s a big bonus for the team. It’s not like we finished 11th where you only get the 10 or so [million] from FOM, it’s now proper money which neither Marussia nor Caterham have experienced because you have to finish in that position two years running. We finished 10th last year, now we’ve got ninth, we’re going to get that money but we only get that if we get to the start of next year and you get it in monthly instalments.
“So it’s going to be difficult to get through the winter without an investor. If we get that then I think we’ll do an even better job than we did this year because for us to finish ahead of the Sauber and Caterham this year with the funding we had, I think it proves what we could do. So we’re just trying our best to make sure we get the team through the winter and avoid liquidation, and then I think the road’s good. But we are running out of time.”
So you’re being kept right up to date with the situation?
MC: "Yeah. Obviously I want to know exactly what’s going on. It’s a big part of my career if I can get back into Formula 1. I feel I’ve got more to show and I think the team have got a lot more to show and I’d love to be part of that journey.
“I’ve helped them in the last couple of years so we’ll try and get something resolved.”
The team and administrators have obviously got their own deadlines, but looking at your career, do you have a deadline in your own mind for when you need your plans for 2015 confirmed?
MC: “I probably should have set myself one to start. I’ve already started looking and I’ve been given some offers in DTM and LMP1. It’s great to be offered them, but obviously I’m a Formula 1 driver and I want to make sure I get there. So that’s plan A at the moment.
“Plan B, I might have to start to revert to pretty soon because obviously seats are going to go, so I don’t want to kind of shoot myself in both feet. It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks and hopefully we come out with the result we want.”
With the prospect of two teams falling by the wayside this winter, the grid is potentially going to shrink even more. Is a reserve or test role further up the field something you’re looking at or considering?
MC: "I’m not going to turn it down; if a good team offers me a reserve then I might take it. But there are some drivers who are suited to it and I believe I’m a racer and I’d rather be racing in LPM1 or DTM than maybe take a reserve.
"If that reserve role would maybe give you a possibility of a race seat then I might take it, but I think at this moment in time Marussia’s my best bet. If not, we’ll have to try accepting the offers in LPM1 and DTM.”
There was some talk prior to Abu Dhabi that you might get the Caterham seat that ultimately went to Will Stevens. Was there much truth in that?
MC: “I’m pretty sure I would have taken the seat if Will hadn’t got it. I got a phone call as I was flying out for Marussia, because we were very near to getting out there, saying 'would you mind driving for us if Will didn’t get his Super Licence?'
“I was quite lucky that he did, because it’s lovely to be offered a drive in Formula 1, but to be honest they’ve been our biggest rivals for two years and I would have felt pretty awkward in that situation. I know I’ve got my career and you’d be silly to turn down a seat but the times the team [Marussia] are going through it wouldn’t have been my dream seat. So it was good to be offered the seat, but I was happy for Will as well. He’s a good friend of mine and it was nice to see him get a good solid weekend.”
You said you still think you have more to show in F1, do you think you had made a big step driving-wise this year compared to where you were this time 12 months ago?
MC: “You never stop learning. People like Jenson [Button] have been in it 14-odd years and you could ask him and he’d say you never stop growing and developing. So I felt I learnt more this year.
“This year’s been very tough for the team, but also for me because I’ve known the team have been in trouble for a long time. So I knew in Bahrain [testing] that we might not be going to Australia. I knew we were lucky to get to Australia and from then on I was treating every race like my last race. Even to the point that I didn’t think we were going to get to Barcelona. Then we somehow got through all the European rounds, and then I thought after Monza ‘that’s got to be it’.
“But we needed to get the team to Russia, so we were fortunate to get those next few races in to get to Russia. But I knew after Russia unless we got the investors in it was going to shut down. It didn’t mean it was the end of Marussia, but I knew we wouldn’t be racing anymore until the issue was resolved.
“It’s now taken longer than we thought to get that done, but I’m still not giving up because at the end of the day if there is going to be two less teams in Formula 1 and someone wants a Formula 1 team, they’re going to come to us first because we’ve got ninth - we’ve got that big prize fund which Caterham haven’t got. I believe we’ve got a good car in the making so hopefully someone will come along.”
We’ve got this strange situation at the moment where we’ve got British champions in F1, GP2 and GP3 this year, along with Jenson and yourself currently on the F1 grid, but as things stand there’s just one Briton confirmed in the 2015 field. How damaging for British motorsport would it be if it stayed that way?
MC: “It’s slightly damaging for British motorsport in the fact that at the moment you’ve got two British-based F1 teams not on the grid for next year. That’s four seats which is opening opportunities for the younger drivers like myself two years ago coming into the sport. You’ve got Jolyon Palmer and Alex Lynn who have done very well this year in winning their championships and, yes, it’s going to make it harder for them to make the step up.
“So I hope just as much as they do that some of these [issues at the] bottom teams are resolved and it gives more opportunity for the younger drivers to come through.”
And just looking at Lewis’s title win, I know you weren’t driving, but what was it like to be out at the Abu Dhabi decider?
MC: “It was weird – my passes didn’t work out there so I actually only went in for qualifying to watch what was going on that afternoon for a couple of hours. Then I flew home on the Sunday morning, so I was mid-flight as Lewis won the title. I was following it on Twitter live on the flight, but I didn’t actually get to see him win it. But I’m very happy for him, it’s good to have someone being pretty dominant for British motorsport. Let’s hope he gets another one next year.”