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Manor takes one step forward, but also takes heat from F1 rivals

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Manor takes one step forward, but also takes heat from F1 rivals
Apr 2, 2015, 11:43 AM

Ferrari and McLaren Honda were not the only team to take large steps forward in Malaysia; Manor Marussia managed to get both cars running on track ...

Ferrari and McLaren Honda were not the only team to take large steps forward in Malaysia; Manor Marussia managed to get both cars running on track on Friday, but only one qualified and raced. That has brought the team more peer criticism, so what is going on at the team?

After appearing, but not running in Australia, Manor was under pressure to run in Malaysia and managed to get both cars out on track, albeit not at the same time. They did 18 laps combined in FP2 and a further 15 in FP3, for example. Stevens, however, did not run after that, citing fuel system problems.

Roberto Mehri was allowed to compete in the race by the Stewards and managed to take the chequered flag, albeit three laps down on the winner. Through the bulk of the race, the car was around four seconds a lap slower than the McLarens and Force India cars, which are the next cars ahead and six seconds slower than the Ferrari.

The team is low on staff numbers at the circuit and on spare parts for the cars, which are 2014 Marussia cars, adapted to 2015 F1 safety regulations, with a modified nose. Against that, the cars were reliable at the end of last season and the engine is the 2014 Ferrari unit, so it should run without major issues. The new nose has not had any aerodynamic work done on it in the wind-tunnel, so to run at a pace around 107% of the front runners is a reasonable outcome given that the team and cars were in mothballs from November onwards.

Manor Marussia F1

But is it good enough for F1? And where is it all going?

Although he was unannounced, Manor's new main investor Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder of Ovo Energy, was in Sepang at the weekend having a look around.

Team sources say that the plan from here is to build the team back up in terms of personnel, while a 2015 car is being built to run with the greatly improved 2015 Ferrari engine. There is no date given for the debut of this car, but "early summer" is the best guess.

Fitzpatrick and team president Graeme Lowdon have a plan based on receiving the $50 million of prize money in instalments this year, which they won last year with 9th place in the Constructor' Championship, and this represents over half of the operating budget. It is up to driver's backers, any sponsors they can find and Fitzpatrick to fund the rest. Fitzpatrick is an entrepreneur who has built up Ovo Energy quickly, but he does not have the kind of personal fortune needed to fund an F1 team, long-term. At the moment it looks like the operation is being run on a shoestring.

The way F1's prize structure works, the payments under Column 1 are the important ones, as they dictate the division of prize money to the top 10 teams. Manor is entitled to a few million more than Sauber this year because it finished one place ahead in 2014.

There are only 10 teams this year so Manor is guaranteed to get roughly the same $50m next year and even in 2016 when Haas F1 team enters F1 his team will not be eligible for prize money for the first three years. So if no other new team enters - or if F1 loses another team - then Manor can keep on collecting $50m cheques for the next three or four years as long as they can fund the rest of the operating costs and keep going.

By far the largest cost is the Ferrari power unit, which comes in at around $21 million a season, more than double what the V8 engines cost up to 2013.

Many of the creditors left with unpaid debts from the collapse of Marussia, are working again with the new Manor Marussia outfit.

Manor F1 team

But there is resistance to Manor within the F1 paddock; Bernie Ecclestone has been very critical of the team not running in Australia, threatening to fine them one 19th of their prize money, or £2m, for the no-show. Team sources say that this has not been communicated to them as yet.

Behind the scenes, Ecclestone is believed to favour having a Colin Kolles-led team making up the numbers in F1 rather than the Manor Marussia group and he was scathing about its chairman, former Sainsbury's CEO Justin King, seeking to embarrass him by pointing out the current level of the Manor team. Despite their doggedness, you sense that the team is on the wrong side of things with the sport's powerbrokers at present.

The FIA, meanwhile, gave Manor the benefit of the doubt in Melbourne, saying in a Stewards' Statement that they had shown they intended to run. Force India's Robert Fernley, who blocked moves in the F1 Strategy Group to allow Manor to use full 2014 cars this year, doesn't believe a word of it.

"It’s not good for their own image what they’re doing," he said after Sunday's race. "I think it was a very clear strategy here to run one car and you have to look at it from the point of view of 'is that in the spirit of what you’re trying to achieve?'

"But that’s up to the FIA and the commercial rights holder, it’s not up to us. Manor are doing what they can do as best they can, it’s up to them to decide their tactics.

"There was a clear programme in Australia of going and not running at all – to my knowledge that was not even enough fuel to run – and that was a clear strategy."

Graeme Lowden

Lowdon refutes this and says that the intention was to compete with both cars all weekend.

"I can guarantee you if that car could have moved, it would have raced," he said. "There is absolutely no question about it. And it would have qualified.

"The systems and the people were perfectly happy with the results of everything in FP1, 2 and 3 from that point of view, and if you look at the run plans we weren't going round and round and round in one, two and three because we had very specific tasks in ticking things off."

China is next; the targets presumably being to get both cars into the race under 107% and for both to see the chequered flag. Like the father of Chinese communism, Chairman Mao, the team is on a Long March.

And, like Mao, it is surrounded by hostile enemies.
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