SOCHI Russia (Reuters) - The Marussia Formula One team are determined to defend Jules Bianchi’s legacy once they have picked up the pieces and regrouped after a week from hell.
The British-based team withdrew the Frenchman’s car from Sunday’s inaugural Russian Grand Prix as a mark of respect for their critically injured driver but, with their ninth place in the championship at stake, have decisions to make.
“We’ll come up with a plan for the next race and through to the end of the season, and I‘m sure the guys are up for it,” sporting director Graeme Lowdon told reporters at the Sochi circuit.
“We make no comment as far as the driver line-up is concerned because we haven’t had time to sit down properly and have a look at the all options,” he added.
“We’ve a little bit of a gap now, which seems like a luxurious one, so we’ll use that time to work out what the best thing is. It’s never straightforward, so we’ll do whatever is right.”
Bianchi suffered severe head injuries after losing control on a wet track at Suzuka eight days ago and skidding off into a recovery tractor that was removing Adrian Sutil’s crashed Sauber.
He was taken to hospital unconscious and remains ‘critical but stable’.
There are three races remaining, with double points on offer for the final round in Abu Dhabi, and Marussia need two cars to have the best shot of preventing Sauber and Caterham from overtaking them in the standings.
The next up is Austin, Texas, in three weeks’ time, with American reserve Alexander Rossi looking the obvious candidate to take Bianchi’s place as Max Chilton’s team mate unless financial considerations come into play.
The two points scored by Bianchi in Monaco were the struggling team’s first in Formula One and offer the prospect of a potentially lucrative payday at the end of the season for a team in desperate need of a boost.
Even a 10th place with the last roll of the dice in Abu Dhabi for one of their rivals would change everything.
“When you’ve had a serious incident, whether somebody isn’t hurt or not, it’s a major challenge. It’s not just an enormous challenge but it’s an enormous mental challenge as well for everybody involved,” said Lowdon of the past week.
The first day back at the factory, he added, was not going to be easy.
The team kept Bianchi’s car, assembled and ready to race, in the garage on Sunday with Chilton taking the start and managing only 10 laps before he retired after reporting problems with the car’s handling.
Bianchi’s accident overshadowed Russia’s inaugural race, with drivers carrying messages of support on their helmets and standing in a silent circle on the grid before the start.
Mercedes’ race winner and championship leader Lewis Hamilton said he had been thinking about Bianchi all weekend.
Lowdon hoped the gestures had been some support for the family, who remain at Bianchi’s bedside in Japan along with team principal John Booth.
“I think the best thing we can do now for Jules and the family is to really try and protect the position in the championship,” he said.
“It was a really great drive from Jules (in Monaco) and that got us something really valuable in sporting terms. We owe it to him now to defend that.”
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly