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The Spirited Story of the Marussia-Manor Formula One Team

Written by Marco Noguier, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

2010 was a major year for new teams joining the Formula One scene. While Mercedes bought out the erstwhile champions Brawn GP, three other teams entered the grid - Caterham, Virgin Racing, and HRT. Virgin Racing, later known as Marussia (who became Manor in 2016 and was named Virgin Racing before) had the longest run of the trio in the sport, their stint running under various guises for seven seasons.

Marussia-Manor, a small team, were locked in the battle at the back of the grid. Constantly fighting for their survival in this sport where money and results are the key to remaining in the sport, they did have some moments of brilliance during their time. However, tragedy struck, and a lack of money brought to an end, the stint of this small f1 team.

It all began when a Formula Renault team named Manor decided to join Formula 1. At the same time, Richard Branson, boss of the Virgin Atlantic airline company, was unable to buy Brawn GP. Following this failed attempt, Branson was keenly interested to buy Manor, and an agreement was made, buying out 80% of the team’s shares, Virgin taking up 20% as part of the sponsorship agreement, which led to the team being named Virgin Racing. Some other societies financed the team, such as the LLOYDS banking group, and a Russian auto manufacturer - Marussia Motors. Branson was the team owner, and the Russian Alex Tai had initially been named Team Principal. Former owner of Simtek, Nick Wirth had been named the Technical Director. Although, Tai left his position soon after, with John Booth being named the new team principal of the Manor team. Virgin racing was based at Dinnington, UK. Now, let’s look at Nick Wirth, whose choice of conception for the VR01 was indeed a unique one. He decided not to use a wind tunnel, a basic requirement to build a F1 car. The new team replaced the wind tunnel by experiments made on the computer using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), and this would go on to particularly influence the team’s performance. For drivers, the team recruited Timo Glock, a veteran driver with plenty of experience, one who could be really helpful to the team, and Lucas di Grassi. It was a good lineup, especially for a new team.

Expectations were high, although, at the first race, there was a definite lack of pace. The first year proved to be extremely difficult for the team, who finished P12 in the constructors championship, behind fellow new-comers Caterham and HRT.

During the winter break, a lot of changes occurred within the team. Firstly, Marussia purchased more of the team’s shares, now owning 40% of the team, leaving only 20% to Virgin. The team will also change names going from Virgin Racing to Marussia Virgin Racing. There was a change in the driver lineup too, Lucas di Grassi replaced by Jerome D’Ambrosio, who brought with him many sponsors that could help the team's financial status. The team also recruited Pat Symonds, former technical director at Renault, who now had the huge task to create a competitive car that can at least challenge points, alongside Wirth. But no miracles were possible during this 2011 season and Nick Wirth was fired at the end of the year. Richard Branson too left the team after two terrible seasons. Charles Pic would replace D’Ambrosio for the 2012 season.

2012 brought a new year, and the car was finally improving, due to the usage of a wind tunnel. Marussia was now battling with Caterham, and was now way in front of the HRT cars. The battle with Catherham was for tenth in the standings, one that would mean millions in terms of prize money at the end of the year. A reward that may seem insignificant in the world of Formula One, but in this battle at the end of the grid, these millions would mean a lot. But despite a strong 12th place finish in Singapore for Glock, Petrov crushed Marussia’s hopes by overtaking Charles Pic in Brazil in a battle for 11th place. The team finished behind Catherham in the Constructors. Although. With improvements having been made, 2012 was their best season yet.

2013 began on a harsher note though, despite good results for the team. The finances were still not enough, and the 2014 regulations would prove to be costly. To increase their finances, the team needed sponsors, and for this, replaced Glock with Max Chilton. As a second driver, Brazilian driver Louis Razzia had been announced. However, following problems with the sponsors, a new driver had been signed, only two weeks before the season began. That signing came in the form of a young Frenchman, none other than Jules Bianchi. And immediately, the French driver put in an incredible showing, with a 12th place early in the season, at Malaysia, going on to net the crucial 10th place in the constructors to Marussia, who finished the season in that position.

The 2014 season began strongly, Marussia having signed a deal with Ferrari, one that secured Jules Bianchi seat (the Frenchman being part of the Ferrari Driver Academy). And the car seemed to be very fast, compared to its fellow backmarker competitors. All the efforts put in during all those years finally paid off in Monaco, a race that saw Bianchi finish P8 and bring home a few points. Despite a penalty that relegated the Frenchman to P9, those points were worth their weight in gold for a team like Marussia, as they secured 10th place in the constructors standings again, ahead of Sauber and Caterham. In Austria, both drivers made it into Q2, and Bianchi did so again in Hungary, starting ahead of a big fish, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikonnen. However, in Suzuka, in torrential rain, the Frenchman woud suffer a terrible crash. Bianchi suffered terrible injuries to the head, which proved to be fatal. The bad news poured in, when Marussia was put on trial for receivership, and missed the last Grands-Prix of the season. Despite this, the team still kept its 10th place in the constructors standings.

Unfortunately the team's future still remained unclear for the 2015 season, and its shares are being sold at the auction. The team kept hoping for a new buyer to take over. Two parties - Manor and Marussia, who were present at the origin of this whole team, bought back the shares. The team was now renamed for a third time: Manor-Marussia Racing team. The team signed two new drivers, both bringing money to the team, the likes of Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens. This sequence of events led to the team missing the season-opening Australian GP. But Manor were back in Malaysia, and their performance across the season proved to be terrible. The team slipped in the standings, to finish dead last in the Constructors Standings.

For 2016, the team negotiated for Mercedes powertrains, in exchange for the signing of young German Pascal Wehrlein. The team accepted this deal, and signed Rio Haryanto alongside Wehrlein. The team saw an uptick in pace, and in Austria, Wehrlein went on to finish P10, scoring one point, and putting the team in a great position to finish in the important 10th place in the constructors. In Belgium, Manor replaced Haryanto with another young French driver, this time from the Mercedes academy : Esteban Ocon. The Frenchman adapted very quickly, and often battled neck-and-neck with his teammate. In Brazil, Ocon drove a large portion of the race in the points, but got overtaken by Felipe Nasr in the last laps, ending up in P12. In the meantime, Nasr finished P9 in his Sauber, scoring two points, snatching the 10th place in the constructors from Manor.

Now, without cash or sponsors, the team were forced to call it a day, leaving Formula One ahead of the 2017 season. Despite not being the best team in the history of F1, this team had etched their name in the sport, having continuously been in the fight for points, their highs and lows, their desire and passion to keep racing. Unfortunately it wasn't enough. As was the case for many others, Marussia-Manor failed to succeed in formula one, but they’ll still be remembered as one of the better backmarker teams in the modern era of Formula One.


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