Manor Marussia successfully emerged out of administration with backing from owner of an energy supply company. After spending a year at the back of the grid, its prospects for 2016 remain rather mixed.
After HRT’s demise in 2012, it seemed Marussia (along with Caterham) was heading the same route last season. Chief backer Andrei Cheglakov pulled the plug after the inaugural Russian Grand Prix and the team missed last three races of the season.
Subsequently, the staff was made redundant and the assets were sold in an auction as the team fell into the hands of administrators.
However, Marussia’s top level managerial officers, most importantly, team principal Graeme Lowdon and sporting director John Booth, worked tirelessly around Christmas to find new backers for the team. Eventually, Ovo Energy boss Stephen Fitzpatrick came to the rescue, partly lured by the FOM payments Marussia was bound to receive for finishing in 9th place in the constructors championship (and in top 10 the previous two seasons).
The outfit was renamed as Manor and it used a modified version of its 2014 chassis. A plan to introduce a new car somewhere in 2015 never came to fruition. On the power unit front, the cheaper 2014-spec Ferrari engine was employed at the back of the MR03B.
Poor results in year-old car
With outdated machinery, Manor spent the entire season trailing several laps behind the leaders in a battle of their own. At the season-opener in Melbourne, the team even failed to get their cars out of the garage as software issues hampered their return to the track.
In terms of intra-team rivalry, Will Stevens mostly outgunned Roberto Merhi until the latter was replaced by American Alexander Rossi for five races that didn’t clash with GP2. The 24 year old, as expected, immediately impressed, getting most out of the machinery and consistently outpacing his British teammate.
Manor’s best result of the season came in form of two 12th position finishes in Britain and USA. However, at both occasions, the team was last among the classified finishers.
Away from the track, Manor announced some major changes for 2016 that should put it on a forward path. It secured a supply of class-leading Mercedes engines and signed a technical partnership with Williams that included procurement of Grove-based team’s transmission and suspension system. Ex-McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan was hired to handle race operations, strengthening the team’s managerial squad further.
However, just as everything was moving in the right direction, Lowdon and Booth, along with technical chief Bob Bell, gave their resignation. It later emerged that the decision was made due to a difference of opinion with owner Fitzpatrick.
The absence of the trio will certainly have a detrimental effect on the team. Further, at the point of writing, no replacement has been announced for any of the three.
The incoming of Haas F1 team will, sooner or later, make Manor’s life difficult. More importantly, for the sake of F1, it will provide some much needed competition at the back of the grid.
Mercedes’ engines, Williams-supplied parts and a brand new chassis will surely make Manor a more competitive outfit next season. But it remains to be seen whether Fitzpatrick can find equally adept chiefs to lead the outfit. Also, one cannot help but wonder whether the British businessman has the right approach to take the team forward.
by Rachit Thukral