Losing Glock is an ill-timed setback for Marussia

2013 F1 season

Timo Glock, Virgin, Sepang, 2011There 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.

Troubled beginnings

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.

Timo Glock, Virgin, Melbourne, 2010Virgin, 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 ??2.64bn/$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

Vitaly Petrov, Caterham, Interlagos, 2012Heading 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.

*Lotus, now Caterham, were awarded their place on the 2010 grid after the budget cap rules were scrapped.

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25 comments on Losing Glock is an ill-timed setback for Marussia

  1. andae23 (@andae23) said on 22nd January 2013, 15:43

    Exactly 2:00 into the video: “Timo Clock”

  2. Jorge Lardone (@jorgelardone) said on 22nd January 2013, 16:59

    Bye bye Marussia…

    • sw280 (@sw280) said on 22nd January 2013, 17:27

      I would be surprised if Marussia left the sport, their recruitment is ongoing and all money spent seems to point the team in the right direction. I would like to take issue with a point in the article though… “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.” This isn’t an indication of restricted finances, more their wind tunnel schedule and the design and manufacturing lead times of such a major upgrade.

  3. Nick.UK (@) said on 22nd January 2013, 17:00

    Clearly there are some financial constraints at Marussia at the moment. I have a slightly releated question. In the event they too were to pull out of the sport, would the winnings for the constructors points system by restructured. If originally in 2010-2012 the top 10 of 12 teams won money for their finishing position, and now (hypothetically) there are only 10 teams; would 10th still be worthy of prize money?

  4. OOliver said on 22nd January 2013, 17:50

    Marrussia are yet to do a deal with Bernie. They are likely not to get any money if they finish 11th end of this season, courtesy of the secret agreements.

  5. Timebolt (@timebolt759) said on 22nd January 2013, 17:58

    F1 needs to sort out this money problem. The top teams (Red Bull in particular) spend way too much money on their cars it needs to be limited to give these new teams at least a chance at some points. If it was limited to I don’t know £120 million the top teams would still have more resources than the smaller teams but they would not have such a big advantage to the smaller teams. Or perhaps even a small advantage to the smaller teams like extra testing. I’m not talking about a massive advantage because that would be unfair but something needs to be done about this.

    I know I haven’t talked about Glock but I needed to get this off my chest.

  6. Lauri (@f1lauri) said on 22nd January 2013, 21:59

    I’ve always wondered what’s the deal with Marussia is, business wise. You’re building a brand that basically doesn’t have any products to sell. Your website is couple of years out of date, cars are delayed etc. Could it just be a scheme to do some so-so business “deals” and move some m0ney out of Russia? Has anyone some insight to the Marussia business model and plans? What’s going on with the mother company? I googled and wiki’ed it – F1 team seems to be the only active thing Marussia does atm. I don’t get it. Then again I’ve never seen the business logic behind the teams who get no money from Concorde agreement nor have they got any sponsor logos (HRT, Arrows, Spyker and tens of other teams from the past).

  7. N7 (@m77) said on 22nd January 2013, 22:38

    An attempt to avoid the significant cost of wind tunnel testing by developing a car entirely using Computational Fluid Dynamics proved a failure

    Must admit I’ve never fully subscribed to this thought – was it really significantly slower than its Caterham and HRT rivals?

    Anyway, it’s good to see an honest press release. Big shame about the split – hope Timo will be back (but fear he will be forgotten)

  8. James Robertson (@mclarenboy0310) said on 23rd January 2013, 0:16

    Wonder if they turn up to MTC with a marussia truck…..

  9. Lee Mavers said on 23rd January 2013, 0:55

    Watch the vid. It shows what Timo Glock’s salary buys you

  10. IceBlue (@iceblue) said on 23rd January 2013, 4:45

    If Computational Fluid Dynamics doesn’t work, someone should contact all aircraft manufacturers in the world and let them know that their aircraft aren’t supposed to be able to fly. I’m betting Marussia must’ve bought their software via e-Bay.

    • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 23rd January 2013, 7:48

      @iceblue I think there’s a question of different philosophies here. CFD for planes is meant just for them to be as safe and fuel-efficient as possible. CFD in F1 is meant to get your car as fast as possible. CFD works in F1 – a lot of teams use it. But from what I’ve seen, it only works up to a point, where its results still need to be validated by a windtunnel. Simply put, CFD alone can give you a solid, functional F1 car. But it’s not at a point yet where CFD alone can give you a winning F1 car.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 23rd January 2013, 8:17

        And I guess that means that with F1 cars, the smallest details, paired with a high speed of turnover of parts (compared with several years lead time in development of a plane) make it far more important to have a good way of choosing exactly what parts are made and tested on track (for limited resources and time constraints)

    • sw280 (@sw280) said on 23rd January 2013, 8:37

      A license for a commercial CFD software for a whole company can cost around £250k a year, they did not get that off ebay. Marussia’s supercomputer, I believe, is one of the 500 biggest in the world, the problem with CFD is that in F1 you need a quick turn around – overnight – which means that super accurate turbulence modelling can’t be used, neither can perfect grids. Using CFD is all about minimising the error, as is wind tunnel testing, and that can go badly wrong – look at Ferrari. The main advantage of a WT is that a model can have its wing angles and endplates and whatnot changed between runs, which take between 8 and 25 minutes, a CFD run with one wing setting will take around 20 hours but will give you much more comprehensive data to analyse.

    • Aeroplanes are a much more simple proposition, as most working surfaces can be assumed to run in clean air for the most part, whereas an F1 car has massive turbulence on everything behind the front wing, complex ground effects, and exhaust blown diffusers and channelling ducts if your competitive. CFD for F1 front wing design is very useful. Everything else, too complicated.

      • sw280 (@sw280) said on 23rd January 2013, 16:28

        CFD is useful for the far more than the front wing, think of analysing the effects of vortices at the front of the car producing a turbulent boundary layer to prevent flow separating on wing surfaces downstream.

  11. ian (@ianmac) said on 23rd January 2013, 15:28

    The top 10 teams get a slice of the F1 pie, on a sliding scale from lavish to barely enough. Predictably, Ferrari get the most money, no matter where they finish in the standings. Given that parent company Fiat loses money every year, maybe Ferrari needs the charity. There might be enough money to help out new, struggling teams were Ecclestone and CVC Equity Capitalists not skimming quite so much off the top. But none of the established members of the hierarchy care about new teams nor even about midfield ones in difficulty. Piranhas are notoriously short-sighted.

  12. lordhesketh (@lordhesketh) said on 24th January 2013, 3:17

    While the point is valid that it isn’t great to lose a top driver, I fail to see how securing the team’s financial future is in any way a setback. It seems to be their only option going forward.
    Also, that car in the video is guilty of the worst supercar sin. It looks far better sitting still than it does moving…

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