There was no mistaking the tone of disappointment in the statement issued by Marussia yesterday confirming Timo Glock will not drive for them this year.
The BMW DTM team’s gain is Marussia’s loss on two counts. It has to fill the hole left by the departure of its lead driver of the last three years, who has participated in more than a hundred F1 race weekends.
Just as troubling is the apparent reason for the split with Glock. According to team principal John Booth, Glock was let go due to “tough economic conditions” and a need to “secure our long-term future”.
In short, both parties wished to continue – Glock had a deal in place for 2013 – but Marussia could no longer afford it.
It’s an ill-timed setback for a team that was just starting to show signs of progress after a difficult introduction to F1.
Marussia entered F1 as Virgin in 2010. The changes they and fellow newcomers* Campos and USF1 have undergone since then says a lot about the difficulty of entering Formula One as a new team.
They were originally attracted to F1 by the prospect of competing under cost restrictions which would allow them certain performance advantage compared to their rivals. But FIA president Max Mosley failed to win support for the rules. USF1 never made it as far as a test session and the Campos entry was taken over by Jose Ramon Carabante and rebranded as HRT.
Virgin, who entered F1 as a sponsor for Brawn in 2009, backed the Manor Motorsport-run team. The fact that it was now owned by Richard Branson, one of the wealthiest men in Britain (worth over ?é?ú2.64bn/$4.2bn according to Forbes), might have led some to assume the team was not being run to one of the tightest budgets in the paddock, significantly less than what was being spent by the front runners.
An attempt to avoid the significant cost of wind tunnel testing by developing a car entirely using Computational Fluid Dynamics proved a failure. The VR-01 had to be redesigned early in 2010 after it was discovered it could not carry enough fuel to complete a race flat-out. Poor performance and unreliability left the team last overall at the end of its first season.
Russian motoring brand Marussia bought into the team and became its title sponsor for 2011. In theory this granted them the status of a manufacturer team, up there with Ferrari and Mercedes.
The reality doesn’t quite match up. At the time they bought into the team Marussia were talking up the arrival of their B1 supercar which was set to go on sale soon, followed by other models. Two years later and still they’re yet to materialise.
What they do have is a website which talks about the “synergy between our road car and Formula One racing operations” and a lavish showroom next to the Fairmont Hotel hairpin in Monaco which opened last May:
The arrival of Marussia was a precursor to the departure of Virgin at the end of 2011. By then designer Nick Wirth was gone too, the team giving up on their all-CFD approach after a poor start to the season. They ended the year last again.
Progress with Marussia
Under the ownership of Marussia the team finally began to make some progress. The hiring of Pat Symonds as a consultant was a controversial move given his role in the ‘Crashgate’ affair but it brought his valuable experience to their technical department.
A technical partnership with McLaren gave them access to the team’s wind tunnel and other state-of-the-art development equipment.
It is an indication of the financial limits the team operate within that their first major wind tunnel-derived update for the car didn’t appear until the 2012 British Grand Prix. But it gave the team a significant boost, and in the closing stages of the year they moved up to a potentially lucrative tenth place in the constructors’ championship.
That came courtesy of a 13th-place finish in the Singapore Grand Prix scored by Glock. Left without a seat when Toyota canned its F1 programme at the end of 2009, Glock had stayed loyal to Virgin/Marussia through three trying years.
Disappointment in Brazil
Heading into the final race of the 2012 Marussia could look forward to a 2013 season in which they had a chance to harness the benefits of their partnership with McLaren more fully and expect a boost in performance from the long-awaited addition of KERS to their car.
And they were poised to claim the scalp of their considerably better-off rivals Caterham in the constructors’ championship.
But the chance slipped through their fingers in Brazil as Glock was involved in an incident with Jean-Eric Vergne (which was unseen by the television cameras) and team mate Charles Pic was beaten to 11th by Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov. Rubbing salt into the wounds, Pic had already been confirmed as a Caterham driver for 2013.
Yesterday’s news of Glock’s departure is another setback and one which indicates Marussia have had to revise their plans for this year. Coming so close to the start of the season it casts doubt on whether they will be able to sustain the advances they made in 2012.
The team are left with rookie Max Chilton as the only confirmed part of their driver line-up. Glock’s replacement will surely be expected to bring funds and ideally already have some F1 experience.
Ironically, one potential successor to Glock could be the man who dashed the team’s hopes in Brazil. Petrov would have obvious appeal to their Russian owners, but his management recently admitted they were having difficulty attracting sponsors.
The newest teams have borne the brunt of F1’s failure to get costs under control. HRT staggered to the end of 2012 then collapsed. Heikki Kovalainen’s future at Caterham has been in doubt since the end of last season, indicating that they too require a driver who can bring backing.
Now Marussia’s plight reinforces the message that economic pressures are being felt ever more keenly at the back of the grid.
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Images ?é?® Virgin, Caterham/LAT