Is Manor back on the right track at last?

Manor lived up to its promise after its Australian Grand Prix no-show and took to the track in practice at Sepang. Kate Walker takes a closer look at how it all went for the struggling team.

Is Manor back on the right track at last?
Roberto Merhi, Manor Marussia F1 Team
Will Stevens, Manor F1 Team
Will Stevens, Manor F1 Team
Will Stevens, Manor F1 Team
Will Stevens, Manor F1 Team
Roberto Merhi, Manor F1 Team
Roberto Merhi, Manor F1 Team
Will Stevens, Manor F1 Team
Will Stevens, Manor F1 Team
Roberto Merhi, Manor Marussia F1 Team leaves the pits
Will Stevens, Manor Marussia F1 Team leaves the pits
Will Stevens, Manor Marussia F1 Team
Roberto Merhi, Manor F1 Team

There was a muted cheer in the press room when Will Stevens left the pits in his Manor on Friday morning.

Despite having heard the engine fire up for the first time on Thursday afternoon, whether or not the team would manage to get out on track in Malaysia was still a matter for debate.

The reborn Marussia outfit has many staunch defenders within the press corps, but the team also doesn't lack for detractors, those who feel the FIA were too lenient with their Melbourne decision not to penalise Manor for failing to run for the duration of the Australian Grand Prix weekend.

But the FIA's leniency is what enabled the underdogs to make it to Malaysia, albeit powered by last year's under-performing Ferrari units.

That disadvantage was immediately obvious from the moment the safety-tweaked MR03 exited the Sepang pits. Without the judicious use of close-up camera angles, to call the car a mobile chicane appeared overly generous - the Manor made the 2015 McLaren look fast.

Battling against the 107% time

Friday morning's practice session saw Nico Rosberg top the timesheets with a 1m40.124s lap. Had that time been used as the 107 percent benchmarker in qualifying, the time to beat would have been 1m47.133s.

Stevens managed it, with a fastest - in the loosest possible sense of the word - lap of 1m46.686s, while Roberto Merhi would have been half a second short of making the cut-off, with a best time of 1m47.683s.

Neither man completed much in the way of running in what was a typically low on action FP1. With the rest of the pack completing an average of 18 laps a piece, both Marussia drivers maxed out at eight laps of the Sepang International Circuit.

The afternoon's running saw Merhi bring out a short red flag when he beached his car in the gravel at Turn 11, spinning backwards into the kitty litter having locked up the rear.

Before the incident, the Spanish racer's best lap of 1m47.229s saw him just outside 107 percent of what was the benchmark lap at the time, while Stevens again made the grade by around half a second.

When the day's running was complete, and Lewis Hamilton dropped the benchmark to 1m39.790s (with a 107 percent time of 1m46.775s) Stevens' safety net improved to a whole second, while Merhi remained out in the cold.

The Briton's 12 laps in FP2 and the Spaniard's six laps made for a combined total of 18 trips around the Sepang track, a slight improvement on the morning's efforts.

Getting out on track a victory of sorts

Given that Manor has proven itself capable of running in Malaysia, even if both cars are as far off the pace as was to be expected, it is safe to assume that the FIA will have no further cause to question its decision to allow the team to take part in the 2015 season using a modified 2014 car in the early part of the season, running on a 2014 Ferrari power unit.

Whether or not Manor will end the season happy that its fight to compete was worthwhile remains to be seen.

Its failure to run in the opening round saw the team fall foul of the commercial rights holder, who has not only invoiced Manor for its Australian freight costs but also docked around $3 million from its share of the prize fund.

"We will deduct the race they missed from the prize-money," Bernie Ecclestone told The Independent in the run-up to the Malaysian race weekend.

"They will miss one 19th of it and they are going to get a bill for the free travel that we gave them."

The F1 supremo went on to explain that "the money they should have got will get distributed amongst the teams that are racing", a detail which will appease those teams who were opposed to Manor being given permission to compete under a different set of rules from the rest of the field.

Had Marussia made it to the end of the 2014 season and been able to complete work on its 2015 challenger over the course of the winter break, the car under development was said to have the makings of a strong contender.

Those technical journalists who have seen (and in some cases purchased at auction) Marussia's old laptops, CFD data, and wind tunnel models were impressed by the potential in what would have been the MR04.

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