Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari MR03

Jules Bianchi
Marussia Ferrari MR03

McLaren and Ferrari are not behind attempts to save the Marussia F1 Team, as news surfaced today that the squad, which had been placed into administration, intends to be in Melbourne for the start of the 2015 season.

Geoff Rowley, joint administrator, and partner at FRP Advisory, said in a press release issued this morning, that “it is envisaged that, prior to the commencement of the first race of the 2015 season, investment into the business will be made upon the Company exiting from administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (“CVA”), which is planned for 19 February 2015. A CVA is a restructuring process agreed with the Company’s creditors which allows for a turnaround of the business and the creation of a longer term viable solution for the team.

“Given the confidential nature of the negotiations underway we are unable to provide further details.

“The joint administrators would like on behalf of Marussia F1 Team to thank all involved with the team for their support during this process.”

Talk is that members of the team have already been called in to the factory to begin work on the 2015 project, but naturally questions have immediately surfaced as to who is behind the efforts to keep Marussia, or if we are to be precise as to the name assigned to its official F1 entry, “Manor,” afloat.

John Booth and Graeme Lowdon Australian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

John Booth and Graeme Lowdon
Australian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

The immediate reaction from some quarters was that McLaren, a partner of the Marussia F1 team dating back to its days as Virgin, was behind the move. The chips all stacked up, so the thought process went. Honda could use Marussia / Manor as an additional development resource for its new engine and the team has two highly regarded youngsters in Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings who would be more than capable of competing at the highest level.

Quite before one started to even consider chassis / engine compatibility, however, came word from McLaren itself. When asked about the suggestions by this blog, a McLaren spokesman replied, “This rumour is totally without foundation.”

And we shouldn’t be surprised.

Just two months ago, at the unveiling of McLaren’s 2015 driver line-up, the subject of a McLaren B Team as a home for young drivers and a developmental platform for Honda was a topic I broached with Ron Dennis.

Ron Dennis c/o James Moy Photography

Ron Dennis
c/o James Moy Photography

“Dealing with a B Team… if under the existing agreements with FOM we are obliged to run a third car we will almost definitely run it ourselves, no question. If anything, it would make the challenge even bigger. Certainly, the concept of more than one car, ie, choosing to run 2 cars, I absolutely believe that the fastest way to eliminate back of the grid teams is to run three cars. You can’t possibly have three McLarens, three Ferraris and three Red Bulls, maybe three Mercedes, the contract by the way being between Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull… we have obligations. Queuing nine cars up and then the next car being whatever it was, clearly doesn’t allow that team to say I’m in Formula 1 if its not fighting on a level playing field.

“If you run three cars you would absolutely try to optimise the experience. The third car would have a lot more function to it than just fulfilling the contract. You’ve then got to try and use it as a development tool et cetera, et cetera, so you’d only get stronger from the process in all areas expect one which is that it would cost us money, no question. So as it’s going to cost us money, that’s a high incentive to avoid that cost by trying to help those small teams to survive.

“If a third car is 50% wrong then two cars would be 100% wrong. You do not want to run a B Team. It is not what Formula 1 is about and it’s certainly not what we are about.”

So that’s categorical. The salvation of Manor is not in McLaren’s interests and never has been.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF15-T Winter Testing 2015 c/o James Moy Photography

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF15-T
Winter Testing 2015
c/o James Moy Photography

Attention thus switches to Ferrari. Manor / Marussia had been a favoured squad for the team to place their youth, with Jules Bianchi taking Marussia to the ninth place in Monaco which secured the outfit’s ninth position in the 2014 Constructors’ championship. Bianchi’s positioning at the team also led to the Ferrari engine deal which began in 2014. With a large sum of money believed to be outstanding for that supply, rumours thus circulated that it was Ferrari itself which was behind the push to save the team, again to set it up as a junior “B” team, a la Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing.

Again, the link makes sense. The engine partnership already exists and the team has in Esteban Gutierrez and Jean Eric Vergne, two test and development drivers with 2014 F1 experience who could easily and happily step into the breach as race drivers. With young talents Raffaele Marciello and Antonio Fuoco waiting in the wings, there is a talented line of accession. But with Haas F1 waiting to enter the sport in 2016, and rumours already stating the American outfit will become a de facto junior team to Ferrari, is there scope for Manor to also fulfill this position?

The simple answer is no. Sources have informed this writer that Scuderia Ferrari is not behind the latest attempt to keep Manor afloat. Indeed, Ferrari has long attempted to maintain an independent position as a supplier to its engine partners and as such even talk of Haas becoming a junior team would seem to be wide of the mark. With the arrival of Sebastian Vettel and a wholesale change in management team at the Scuderia, Maranello it seems already has enough on its plate.

As such, it appears that neither McLaren nor Ferrari are behind the latest deal to try to save Manor.

Graham Lowdon and Bernie Ecclestone Russian GP 2014 c/o James Moy Photography

Graham Lowdon and Bernie Ecclestone
Russian GP 2014
c/o James Moy Photography

But that does not mean that the attempt to rescue the team is without merit or hope. While Manor is known to have various bills outstanding, its ninth place finishing position in the 2014 Constructors’ World Championship ensures it will be granted a larger slice of the financial pie than at anytime in its short history. Crucially, however, one must recognise that this payout does not occur in one lump at the start of the season. Rather, it is paid out in installments over the course of the following year and, as such, the team’s continued presence is essential to it receiving its full entitlement.

Questions remain over exactly what chassis the team would use in 2015, with the most likely route expected to be that it will run its 2014 MR03. The team would need special dispensation to do so, although with F1 desperate to not see grids shrink any further, it is believed that rival teams will not place any obstacles in the squad’s way should the use of a year old chassis be the only way they can make it to Melbourne. Indeed, a forthcoming meeting of The Strategy Group is expected to ratify such an exemption.

With the car sitting an average of three to four seconds off the pace in 2014, however, even an upgraded 2015 engine may not be enough to keep the team within 107%. The Ferrari engine has changed much over the winter, too, and one wonders how much of the redesign will affect its integration into the 2014 chassis.

There is also the subject of where the team will be based. News broke in December that Haas F1 had bought Manor / Marussia’s base in Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK. As such, it is unclear whether those members of staff believed to have been called back to work this week are operating out of Banbury, or Manor’s traditional HQ in Dinnington, Yorkshire, where the F1 team was based when it was known as Virgin.

The final piece of the puzzle would then be over the team’s drivers. Max Chilton has already confirmed that he is to move Stateside to pursue an Indycar career with Carlin, and it is unlikely that he and his backers would stump up the money to make an 11th hour return to Formula 1. As such, Marussia’s third driver Alexander Rossi must be considered to be a serious consideration for a seat, should the team be saved. While Rossi lacks budget, he has experience of the car and the team and would be a neat and popular appointment.

The next few weeks will be fascinating, with the vast majority of the sport united in hope that the popular British team will see the lights go out in Melbourne in just two months’ time.

Update: SKYF1 – Ex-Sainsbury Boss behind bid to save Marussia?