Manor Marussia F1’s return to the grid is a fairytale story with a last-minute rescue measuresled bythe defiant John Booth and Graeme Lowdonof Manor Motorsports following the collapse of primary investor Marussia Motors after three years of holding control stakes in the team that ran at the back of the field.
But this season will go down in history as one of mentally toughest for the resilient British outfit following the demise of Frenchman Jules Bianchi who raced in their colours and won two points at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix that crucially ensured their survival.
The team entered administration in November, a few days after the now-deceased Caterham, and did not participate in the last three races of 2014. Having sold some of their equipment in a December auction to repay the crippling debts and subsequently Marussia owner Andrei Cheglakov agreeing a deal with Gene Haas for a takeover of their Banbury base, the minnows’ future was left in a dire state although they featured in the 2015 F1 entry list.
Had the auction for the remaining assets been carried out in January there would have been little in the way of salvation but the eleventh-hour operation led to its cancellation thanks to the British businessman and new owner Stephen Fitzpatrick who brought in £30 millionto rebuild the team with Jordan King taking charge as interim chairman.
The re-named Manor Marussia F1 came out of administration on February 19 and passed the FIA mandatory crash tests just in time for the season-opening Australian GP with its modified 2014 car, dubbed MR03B, to meet current regulations.
With no pre-season testing and very late appointment of Spanish driver Roberto Merhi, disaster struck early on as both him and Will Stevens failed to make it out on track the whole weekend following computer software issues as crucial data wiped off while in preparation for the anticipated auction during administration.
The team were accused of having their presence felt at Melbourne only for the sake of qualifying for previous year’s prize money and rumoured to fully recover only by Bahrain. In the light of not running at all, Manor escaped penalty for the following Malaysian GP and their drivers did manage to complete considerable laps in practice sessions shrugging off the critics.
Despite Stevens enduring a fuel system problem and Merhi qualifying 0.4s off the 107% of lead time set in the first part of qualifying, stewards allowed them to race because of satisfactory lap times seen in practice. Unable to fix the fuel system issue overnight Stevens didn’t race while the Spaniard, who shares driving duties with Formula Renault 3.5 series, finished in 15th position.
Since then, both drivers retired once each with the Brit Stevens in Austria and Merhi in Canada. Their best result halfway through the season came courtesy of Roberto Merhi who managed 12th at their home race in Silverstone coinciding with the first updates introduced.
China was the first race both the Ferrari-powered Manors competed together. The intra-team battle between them holds much significance since the Dinnington-based team are a bit off in pace compared to the rest. While Stevens had a definitive edge over his team-mate in the succeeding contests, be it qualifying or race, the Spanish rookie is slowly coming in grips with racing in the top-flight and almost on equal terms in comparison now.
The month of May saw Manor heralding big shake-up on the technical grounds with the appointments of former Mercedes technical boss Bob Bell, Gianluca Pisanello and Luca Furbattoas chiefs of engineering and design fronts respectively besides signing up with new partners Airbnb and Flex-Box. All of those significant steps indicate a better future especially with the threat of new entrant Haas from 2016 for the 10th place in constructors’ standings? Have your say below. (Suren M)