The rescue package to save Marussia – and get it back on the grid in time for Melbourne – almost seems too good to be true. Kate Walker investigates.
After six months in limbo, the Marussia Formula One team has officially been reborn as the Manor F1 team. It is good news for the sport as a whole, as with only nine teams F1 risked dropping below contracted minimum grid sizes in the event that any of the remaining beleaguered outfits succumbed to financial pressures.
Manor’s rescue comes at the hands of Ovo energy boss Stephen Fitzpatrick, 37, who found himself so seduced by the Marussia fairy tale – without the happily ever after – that the Northern Irish businessman was compelled to put £30million of his own money into the team. Manor’s long-term viability will depend on the team securing a raft of sponsors and delivering on track to ensure both continued sponsor funding and on-going access to the F1 prize fund.
A romantic story
Speaking at a press conference in London yesterday, Fitzpatrick took a rather romantic view of his role in the revival of Manor’s fortunes.
"Until November last year I was on wrong side of F1 fence," the Ovo boss said. "My most recent F1 experience was I went to the grand prix in Singapore with a friend; we were walking down the track at the end of the race and looking at all the fans lined up on the pitwall – and looking at garages. I said ‘we need to figure out a way to get over there’.
“For a long time I had an ambition to own an F1 team, I was hoping Ovo Energy would be successful enough to own a team, but I didn't expect it to be in 2015.
“I picked up the phone to Geoff Rowley, the administrator, before the last race in Abu Dhabi and got an understanding of the current situation at the time, and challenges the team were facing: the amount of money involved, level of debts involved. It seemed fascinating - almost hopeless.
“It looked like one of those situations that with more time to understand everything, there was maybe a great opportunity. But it was too late. There wasn't any realistic possibility of reviving the team.
"Having made it through the hard five years, to get to the point of ninth in the championship, two years in the top 10, to reach the first rung of financial stability and due to receive fund money, to have run out of steam right at the last hurdle... It seemed like too good story to let end there.
“One of the things that really motivated me was how great a story it could be to figure out a way to help this team cling to survival."
Where is the money coming from?
One of the most-oft repeated motorsport cliches is that to make (or lose!) a small fortune, one must first start with a large one. Fitzpatrick’s fortune is rather larger than that of the ordinary man on the street, but the energy boss does not have endless riches with which to keep the team afloat long-term.
Reports in the financial press put the Ovo boss on an annual salary of £120,000, and Fitzpatrick last year made waves when he took £2million out of the business – which reports annual profits of £300,000 and net liabilities of £9million in 2013 – in order to finance the purchase of a home. The deal was entirely above board, and the £2million share transaction was estimated as representing around 4.5 per cent of the rapidly-growing business.
All that is known about the £30million Fitzpatrick is investing in Manor is that the money has not come out of Ovo, with the 37-year-old energy chief telling reporters in London yesterday that his F1 involvement was self-funded, and not dependent on company coffers.