Before arriving in Formula One Manor helped the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton on their way to Formula One.
But their own shot at the big time was compromised from the outset. Given the challenges they faced when they arrived in the sport as Virgin in 2010, it’s remarkable they continued as long as they did.
As Virgin, Marussia and finally Manor, the team stumbled at first then punched above their weight. However their most promising season to date appears also to have been their last.
Like all of the newcomer teams in 2010, Virgin had the rug pulled from under it when the cost-capped regulations it had entered the sport under were scrapped in 2009. With nothing like the budget needed to compete in the midfield, the team inevitably struggled.
This was a tough break for John Booth and Graeme Lowden, the men behind Manor who had successfully won backing from the FIA to enter the sport. However they successfully lured Richard Branson’s Virgin brand from Brawn, who were being taken over by Mercedes, giving them the means to at least make good on their plans to go racing.
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However the VR-01, designed by ex-Benetton and Simtek man Nick Wirth, had some fundamental shortcomings. A bold attempt to create an F1 car entirely using Computational Fluid Dynamics while almost entirely avoiding wind tunnel running failed to pay off. The car was short on downforce and, worse, couldn’t carry enough fuel to race flat-out at many events, at least until is was superseded by a revised design.
Despite the sterling efforts of Timo Glock (who impressively kept Adrian Sutil’s Force India behind him at Singapore until he had to pit) and rookie Lucas di Grassi, the team ended the year point-less and last. At the end of the season Rio Haryanto, who would race for the team in their final campaign, made his test debut with them at Yas Marina.
The most promising news for the team in 2010 had been the arrival of Russian sports car manufacturer Marussia as an investor. They would eventually take over naming rights from Virgin, whose investment in the team had been minimal.
The MVR-02 did not provide the leap forward the team were hoping for and the decision was taken to split with Wirth and get their next chassis into a wind tunnel. The arrival of Pat Symonds, making his return to F1 following the Crashgate scandal, gave the design team new direction. But they ended the year last once again as points remained elusive for Glock and new team mate Jerome D’Ambrosio.
Now officially renamed Marussia and benefitting from a technical tie-up with McLaren which included access to their wind tunnel, clear progress was made by the team in 2012. However their season took a dire turn away from the tracks.
While conducting a straight-line aerodynamic run at Duxford Aerodrome, test driver Maria de Villota struck the team’s support truck. She suffered serious head injuries and lost her right eye. De Villota died the following year.
The accident cast a pall over the team’s season. They led fellow 2010 newcomers Caterham (formerly Lotus) and HRT in the points standings until the final race of the year, when Glock’s latest team mate Charles Pic was beaten to 11th by Vitaly Petrov’s Caterham in Brazil. The following year Pic was a Caterham driver.
That race also marked the final appearance for Glock, as the team had to find a funded replacement for him in 2013, anticipating the cost hike of new engine regulations the year after. His 12th at Singapore had put them in the running for tenth in the championship and the cash windfall which would have accompanied it.
By the final year of the V8 engine regulations HRT had already gone to the wall and Marussia were the only team left using Cosworth’s engines. They were at least finally able to afford KERS for the first time.
Luiz Razia was initially announced alongside Max Chilton as part of an all-new, all-rookie line-up. But his funding failed to materialise and, little more than three weeks after getting the seat, he was prised out to make way for Ferrari junior driver Jules Bianchi.
It was Bianchi who delivered the team’s best result of the season. His 13th place at Sepang, over half a minute clear of the Caterhams, pushed Marussia to a new high of tenth in the constructors’ championship. Chilton also proved a dependable pedaller, reaching the chequered flag in every race.
The arrival of new and vastly more sophisticated power units in 2014 put the back-of-the-grid teams under even greater cost pressures. With no customer engines available, Marussia sourced Ferrari units at considerable cost.
They at least had the novelty of consistency in its driver line-up for the first time ever. And Bianchi made good when an opportunity presented itself in Monaco. He crossed the line in eighth place and though a post-race penalty cost him one position he nonetheless finally delivered the team’s first points.
But the entire sport was shook to its core by Bianchi’s crash at Suzuka. Pressing on in a worsening downpour, Bianchi aquaplaned while approaching a crash scene and struck a crane which was recovering another driver’s car. He suffered severe head injuries and died the following year.
In the aftermath the severity of the team’s situation became clear too. After Russia, where Chilton drove their sole car, they did not reappear all year.
Over the winter of 2015-16 it appeared to be all over for Marussia. The team went into receivership and the first in a series of auctions to sell off their assets was held. Incredibly, a deal was then struck with Stephen Fitzpatrick to rescue the team. They arrived in Australia with two 2014-specification cars, though neither of them ran.
The team saw out the season with their year-old hardware and never looked like getting on terms with the rest of the field. By now Caterham had also gone, leaving Marussia the only remaining representatives of the ‘class of 2010’.
Its new roster of drivers included Will Stevens, Roberto Merhi and, for five races, Alexander Rossi. The latter had come close to making his debut for them the year before at Spa when a payment from Chilton’s sponsors failed to materialise on time.
Ironically it was only as the team formally adopted the ‘Manor’ name for the first time that the men behind their original entry into F1 were moved aside. Booth and Lowden left to take the Manor name into the World Endurance Championship.
In their seventh year of Formula One the team produced what was clearly its most convincing performance yet. But it appears not to have been enough to secure their future.
Landing a supply of class-leading Mercedes power units finally gave the team a chance to compete in the midfield. This they did, and in Austria junior Mercedes driver Pascal Wehrlein claimed a point which gave them a crack at ninth in the championship.
Journeyman Rio Haryanto contributed little beyond a few million in sponsorship. When that dried up he was elbowed aside in favour of the much more promising Esteban Ocon. Despite little familiarity with the car he ran in the points for much of the soaked Brazilian Grand Prix, only losing his grip on the top ten in the latter stages.
But that race may have proven the final blow for the team. Felipe Nasr’s ninth place to Sauber relegated Manor to last in the championship, and with it severed a vital financial lifeline.
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