A Brief History of the now Defunct Manor F1 Team

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Image: Autoweek

This morning, F1 fans learned about the fate of the short-lived Manor F1 Team. While not world-beaters, it’s never good to see a Formula One team dissolve into the history books.

Just Racing Services, Manor’s operating company, had been in administration sincet he 6th January and no buyer was found. Just Racing Services ceased trading today, putting the final nail in the Manor coffin.

The Manor story begins in 2010 when the FIA were keen to bring new teams into a starved F1 grid of just 18 drivers from 10 teams. ‘Virgin Racing’ was one of the three teams selected out of 15 applicants to line up on the starting grid, along with Lotus Racing and Hispania Racing Team. Virgin Racing was a joint-partnership with Richard Branson’s ever-present Virgin brand, Wirth Research and Manor Motorsport.

The latter was a well respected Formula Three and British Formula Renault team. The likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton passed through Manor’s doors with the pair of them winning Formula Renault UK titles in 2000 and 2004 respectively. Virgin hired former Toyota driver Timo Glock to race alongside debutante Lucas Di Grassi.

The Virgin VR-01 rolled out at the season opener in Bahrain. Glock qualified in 19th and fastest of the six new cars while Di Grassi settled for 22nd, only outpacing the Hispania’s of Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok. Both cars retired with mechanical problems. It wasn’t until round three in Malaysia that Virgin would earn their first finish, a 14th at the hands of rookie Di Grassi who finished ahead of both the Lotus and HRT cars.

Fourteenth turned out to be Virgin’s highest placing for the 2010 campaign with Glock matching his team mates pace at the Japanese Grand Prix later on in the season. The team struggled to match the pace of Lotus but found themselves consistently in front of Hispania. Despite this, the Spanish-based HRT managed more 14th place finishes over the season and Virgin’s difficult birth in F1 saw them finish last in the 2010 campaign

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Lucas Di Grassi driving the VR-01 during practice at the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix.

2011 brought forward a new name to the team banner; Marussia Virgin Racing. Marussia, a luxury Russian car manufacturer and the first of its kind in the country, brought more of a budget to the team. The team retained Glock for the 2011 campaign and promoted test driver Jerome d’Ambrosio to a race seat after Di Grassi was recruited by new tyre manufacturer Pirelli as a development driver. The MVR-02 was a lot more reliable than the 2010 car with only six retirements in total throughout 2011, which the 2010 car managed to do in just four Grands Prix. Despite the reliability, the team still couldn’t finish higher than 14th place, both of which came at the hands of rookie d’Ambrosio at the inaugural round in Bahrain and Canada. The team finish bottom yet again after Hispania, despite their immensely slow pace at the start of the season, pulled off a 13th place finish at the dramatic Canadian Grand Prix courtesy of Vitantonio Liuzzi.

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d’Ambrosio leads team mate Glock and Sauber’s Pedro de la Rosa at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix.

When the 2012 season came about, Marussia had full control of the team and ‘Marussia F1 Team’ took to the grid. Once again Timo Glock was retained and once again a new rookie was brought in, this time in the shape of Frenchman Charles Pic as Belgian Jerome d’Ambrosio sought refuge in Lotus as reserve driver. Marussia yet again found themselves squeezed in the middle of the three new teams, faster than HRT but slightly behind the renamed Caterham. They finally broke the 14th place barrier when Glock posted a 12th place finish at Singapore, only for Pic to repeat that feat during the final round in Brazil. Sadly, Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov managed an 11th place finish in Sao Paulo resulting in Caterham winning the duel between themselves, Marussia and HRT.

Season four of the Virgin/Marussia/Manor campaign looked promising. 2013 saw fresh young blood in the garage by luring in Ferrari academy driver and potential future star Jules Bianchi alongside Max Chilton of the Chilton motorsport dynasty. They brought in famed technical director Pat Symonds, the man who oversaw Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso’s drivers championships with Benetton and Renault respectively, to spearhead the team.

HRT were sold after the 2012 season so Marussia only had Caterham as rivals. It was Marussia who finally got the better of Caterham finishing above them in the constructors championship. Bianchi’s 13th place finish was the teams best but the team still had yet to score a point in four years.

That all changed in 2014 when F1 entered into the current era of turbocharged hybrid power units. Engine supplier Cosworth had failed to build one of the new-era engines resulting in Marussia seeking out Ferrari powerplants. The team showed good pace early on, outrunning the Caterham’s quite often and were slightly lagging behind Sauber. At the Monaco Grand Prix, the long-awaited points finish finally happened. Despite starting 21st on the grid, Jules Bianchi had lady luck on his side when a string of retirements and collisions saw the French driver finish ninth place in the Marussia MR03 earning the teams first ever points in an F1 campaign. Although crossing the line in eighth, five seconds was added to his time for serving a penalty under the safety car, thus being leapfrogged by Romain Grosjean. That didn’t matter though as Marussia still pulled off an amazing feat against well established teams.

The mini-victory at Monte Carlo turned out to be bittersweet when the F1 campaign reached Japan. Towards the latter stage of the race, in pouring wet conditions and fading sunlight, Bianchi spun off at the Dunlop Curve having failed to see the yellow warning light. The car aquaplaned and crashed into the back of a tractor tending to Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Bianchi was put in a medically induced coma and later succumbed to his injuries on the 17th July 2015.
Marussia ran only one car at the following event with Max Chilton at their home race at the Sochi Autodrome in Russia. The team were hampered with financial difficulties throughout the 2014 season and ultimately, the Russian-backed outfit entered administration in October and did not field a single car in the final three rounds.

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The F1 grid pay respect to Marussia’s Jules Bianchi prior to the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix, which took place 9 days after Bianchi’s death.

Manor Motorsport intervened and in 2015, under the name ‘Manor Marussia F1 Team’, they came out of administration, fielding two new drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi with Alexander Rossi replacing Merhi for five rounds towards the end of the campaign. Due to a limited budget, they were forced to use a B spec of the 2014 MR03 using last seasons Ferrari engine also. The car showed its age and were the only team that failed to score a point in 2015.

Manor took full control of the team in 2016 and fielded a top Mercedes prospect in Pascal Wehrlein alongside Rio Haryanto, Indonesia’s first F1 driver. Haryanto was largely unimpressive and was replaced mid-season by Frenchman Esteban Ocon. Wehrlein meanwhile impressed on a number of occasions. At the Austrian Grand Prix, Wehrlein finished tenth scoring the teams only point in the 2016 campaign which proved to be Manor’s last as of today.

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