A cruel end to Marussia’s F1 hopes

2014 F1 season review

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Almost two months on from Jules Bianchi’s crash in the Japanese Grand Prix, that traumatic moment seems to have finally ended Marussia’s struggle against the odds in Formula One.

Marussia team stats 2014

Best race result (number) 9 (1)
Best grid position (number) 12 (1)
Non-classifications (mechanical/other) 4 (1/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,523 (65.42%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2013) 9 (10)
Championship points (2013) 2 (0)
Pit stop performance ranking 11

Bravely, the team continued to Russia for what proved a swansong appearance with a single car for Max Chilton. Shortly afterwards it went into administration, and before the season was over the team ceased trading.

It was a cruel end for a team which had punched above its weight thanks to a brilliant drive from Bianchi in Monaco. An opportunistic pass on Kamui Kobayashi helped to finish eighth on the road, which became ninth after a five-second penalty for lining up in the wrong grid slot.

Marussia went into the season hoping to repeat their 2013 result of tenth place, but Bianchi’s result lifted them to a best-ever ninth in the championship at the end of the year. Two consecutive top-ten finishes ensures a greater slice of F1’s prize money, one which should have been sufficient to safeguard their position in F1. That it isn’t provides yet more evidence of why F1’s smaller teams are under threat of extinction.

In a recent interview Chilton shed new light on how the team spent much of the season concerned it wouldn’t make the next race. However he did not shed further light on the strange events of Spa, where Alexander Rossi was initially announced as his replacement, upon which Chilton said he had ‘voluntarily’ relinquished his seat, only for the pair to swap back again after practice had begun.

However in the MR03 the team at least had a chassis which was consistently a match for and often superior to that of closest rivals Caterham. They might have expected their off-season switch from Cosworth to Ferrari power would not leave them at a disadvantage on the straights, but that proved not to be the case.

Nonetheless Marussia’s usual form was for Bianchi to race just in front of Kobayashi and Chilton to do the same with Marcus Ericsson. However there were occasions, particularly early in the season, when Bianchi’s zest for racing with the likes of Sauber and Lotus appeared to get the better of him, resulting in a few needless collisions.

Chilton committed the worse offence in that respect, however, ending the team’s participation in the Canadian Grand Prix on lap one after hitting his team mate.

Although Marussia’s start to the season was compromised – the MR03 didn’t appear until day three at Jerez and a computer virus attack hampered their second test – they enjoyed considerably better reliability than their rivals at the rear of the field. However the team’s shortage of funds appeared to have the inevitable effect on their ability to develop the MR03.

With what they had at their disposal Marussia were always going to be underdogs this year. They deserved to reap the rewards of their giant-killing feat at Monaco, but sadly that seems unlikely to happen.

The team’s precarious situation was owed partly to the split from Russian car manufacturer Marussia Motors, whose plan to build thousands of sports cars was never realise and ended in the company dissolution in April. A place for the team remains on the FIA’s entry list for the 2015 F1 season, under its original name Manor.

This was the team founded by John Booth in 1990 which helped the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen up the single-seater ladder. It was rebranded as Virgin for its F1 entry in 2010 before the Marussia deal was arranged.

Some saw a ‘branding opportunity’. Others saw a team of passionate racing professionals – another one which F1 now appears to have lost.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “A cruel end to Marussia’s F1 hopes”

  1. This makes me sad :(

  2. It really is too bad. More cars is always better and losing a team that seemed to be full of people with a lot of passion can’t bode well for F1.

  3. what made me more sad was to see the 2015 car ready to be auctioned.

    1. *model

    2. at f1technical we had a source that informed of a lot of the details of the MR04 (no, not the article about the 2015 windtunnel model). They managed to reduced the car length by a few hundred mm and aero wise it improved as well. It was said the MR04 was far ahead of the MR03.

      Couple that with the fact that if they managed to survive a couple of months more, they would have actually received around 50 million pounds of price money, which would have put them in the clear with a car probably being good enough for a midfielder. Really gutted they missed out on breaking through by mere weeks. I also blame the administrator for being so short sighted. The price money would have paid off debts.

      I don’t care about Caterham; the way they came and go was proper BS. But Marussia was a proper and serious race team.

      1. @turbof1 Honestly, to begin with, Caterham (nee Lotus Racing) were the proper racers, whilst Marussia (nee Virgin) were bumbling around with pay drivers and diminutive fuel tanks. That both ended up in the pits for the same reason, despite swapping roles halfway, speaks more about the state of the sport.

  4. What makes this worse is that there was hope for the team; mere months ago there was a seemingly brighter future ahead. Having take home the much coveted 10th place constructors ranking in 2013, the team found itself on cloud nine following a supreme drive from the then likely Ferrari bound Bianchi and the first points for the team.

    More importantly, during the first half of 2014, Marussia was closer to the midfield pace than ever before. The fact that the route to an established place in F1 was seemingly clear makes their downfall, and the circumstances that surround it, all the more painful. My thoughts are with all the good friends I made over the years in this small but perfectly formed team at this difficult time, and of course with one immensely talented Frenchman. #ForzaJules

    1. @countrygent Alas, that’s not necessarily the case. Andrey Cheglakov was just hanging in there, stalling until the Russian GP happened – the funding had already dried up and it was likely the team would have been wound up, regardless of the prize money or JB’s accident.
      They’d already missed payments to Ferrari, who were threatening to withhold engines and they likely had a long stream of creditors building up before even running the team entered into the equation. That $50 million wasn’t going to go that far…

  5. Marussia’s 2014 story is one of the saddest stories F1 has sparked in the last couple of years. It started off with that Jerez test, where they were unable to attend right from the beginning, but they sent a van with a trailer that broke down on the road or something.

    It didn’t look like they had made any progress, but thanks to Bianchi’s drive in Monaco (and Raikkonen for causing a traffic jam at Loews) they finally got that one point. It was great to see how happy they were.

    Apparently their financial situation started to deteriorate, but somehow they kept showing up. And then they had their biggest setback yet with Bianchi’s crash in Japan. I think it was very admirable that they decided to race in Russia – their final race of 2014 as it turned out – and it was very heartbreaking to see them retire.

    Really hope they will make it through the winter somehow, but I don’t see it happening.

    1. @andae23 – I don’t agree that Marussia had made no progress relative to the field between 2013-4: in wet conditions especially the car looked a not inconsiderable threat to the Saubers, and come Silverstone the MR03 of Bianchi momentarily looked capable of Q3 even. It was team that from the outside was on a gentle upward curve, but clearly behind the scenes the situation was dire from the outset in 2014 with Chilton claiming the team were relieved to be on the grid come Melbourne.

      1. @countrygent Maybe they were improving, but I mean, is there really a difference between being in the bottom two team and being in the bottom two teams but with the next team in sight? With improvement I mean being able to regularly challenge Sauber and Lotus for points, which really wasn’t the case.

        1. @andae23 But through going from paying tuppence for a virtually undeveloped Cosworth V8 to having a Ferrari V6 powerunit we could have reasonably expected Marussia to go backwards because of the drastically smaller chassis budget they had. And yet, they made a bigger step forward than at any point in their history: impressive, especially when you consider their closest rivals, Sauber, had the same powerunit. In hindsight it was probably too impressive, and whilst it would be unjust to say they are now sat at home because they overspent when they were competing in a sport that clearly didn’t value their presence, it was certainly a contributing factor.

  6. Couldn’t even bring myself to read the whole review. It breaks my heart.

  7. With the view that Manor helped Lewis and Kimi into F1, I wonder if those two heavy weights could have lent support to the team. They have personal sponsors that could get involved as well.

    Its probably a breach of contract, but a nice idea.

    1. @b3ndy By that measure, are you saying Lewis & Kimi are also indebted to McLaren or Sauber? Multi-millionaire businessmen with fingers in many money pies can’t keep F1 teams afloat anymore – what hope does a driver with a much more finite amount of money in their pockets have?

  8. Sad indeed… always thought Marussia had the better hand then Caterham.
    Guess Jules Bianchi was their trump card.

    So no pay-out due to Jules’s 9th place in Monte?

  9. Come on! Why its so hard to give prize money just because they did not started last 3 races, its very harsh! Especially after that tragic accident. #forzajules

    1. @deongunner I believe the team has officially closed down, thus there’s currently no legal entity to pay the money too.

      As I understand it, the administrators for both MF1 & CF1 used available money to pay the FA entry fees for 2015 to make sure the teams had *some* ongoing value, but Bernie always works the contracts so that if the teams change hands/names, TV money doesn’t get paid unless it’s agreed long in advance (hence why Sauber kept their entry as ‘BMW Sauber’ in 2010 – they’d lose their 2009 money, which is paid in instalments over the following year).

      As it stands, I believe their money gets spread amongst the remaining teams, though I’m not sure how Caterham fit into the model.

      For one, neither Marussia nor Caterham forfeited any money through non-appearance. All teams are allowed to miss 3 races a year – in theory, both can also miss the first 3 races of 2015 too without violating their contracts with FOM. The issue for them comes through sponsorship forfeiture for not running in the races, likely violating their contracts to promote their backers for ‘all races of the season’.

      Alas, keeping either team on life-support until mid-April with no staff and no car development over the winter is fundamentally pointless, entry or not, because they’ll have nothing to bring to the first race they are contractually required to attend.

      1. So no rewards for them after 9th place in Monaco??

  10. I don’t remember being sad when other teams folded, but for some reason I really liked the Marussia guys and was devastated when I learned they were gone from the sport. I wonder why Ferrari has never taken an interest in having a “B” team in the same fashion Red Bull has. This would be the perfect opportunity and would at least mean the team survives somehow.

    1. @vinicius-jlantunes Ferrari is a funny beast – read Mark Hughes analysis yesterday on how it’s a cyclical entity to see why it has endemic problems that just don’t go away!

      Also, I think they’d struggle to ever field a B Team because the pressure would be too large to make sure it never beat the A Team. Red Bull Racing took a *massive* public kicking when Vettel won in a Toro Rosso, but they weathered it by a) being essentially a well-funded minnow who were building for better things and b) finally netting their first win a few months later with the result of a).

      Picture the scene – a ‘Scuderia Manor’ car, fielding either a upcoming member of the Driver Academy (or *gulp* someone from outside the programme) passed a scarlet Ferrari on track for position in a proper race… The Italian media would EXPLODE!

      1. Hahah that’s true, if the “B” team turned out to beat the “A” team it would be quite telling of the current state of Ferrari. Considering how bad they were this year, it’s not as far fetched as it should be!

  11. I read somewhere (dubious start, I know!) that Marussia had the funding in place to compete at Abu Dhabi but were told by the F1 ‘powers that be’ not to get on the plane. Anyone know if there is any true in this? They stood to take some cash from the F1 pot if they had made it o that race…

    1. @skylab I believe it was the other way around… The team were packed and ready to head to Abu Dhabi with their cars, Ferrari’s engine liason team were waiting to move their kit into the Marussia garage (which was empty at the time) and the FIA were happy to receive the cars for scrutineering (after all, they had every right to race) but they got the call at the last minute that the ‘rescue’ package had fallen through and the team was subsequently wound up by the Administrator.

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