So it’s here, the 2015 Motorsport season kicks off proper this weekend with the traditional opening race in Albert Park, Melbourne (Now if we could just restore either Japan or Brazil to the finale that’d be great Bernie). The race has a history of upsets, the simple flowing track is a little tricky to overtake on but the walls are close, the cars are new and the circuit is a temporary track where the grip can change dramatically from session to session.
However while usually most eyes look towards the front of the grid at the beginning of the season to see who will be in the title mix, the spotlight this year however is on the back of the grid. Manor Marussia (I’m still not 100% sure what the official title of their chassis is) will complete their return to the sport after entering administration before the US Grand Prix in 2014. It will boost the grid to 10 teams and they will field Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi for the “opening rounds”. Mehri has a contract to race a second season in FR 3.5 which starts in April and is he is expected to still take that up after an impressive rookie season left him 3rd in the standings. The team will use a modified 2014 car that complies with the regulations until their 2015 challenger is ready sometime around Bahrain / Spain.
While Manor have pulled off a Lazarus act, Sauber have got themselves into a right mess. The team had a contract with Giedo van der Garde to race this year and people have suggested this would have been alongside Jules Bianchi who would come with cut price Ferrari engines. Van der Garde does have decent sponsorship behind him but after Sauber failed to score a point last year and the accident involving Bianchi has left him in hospital the team had to look elsewhere for drivers and more importantly, funds. The team snapped up former Caterham pilot Marcus Ericcson alongside Brazilian GP2 ace Felipe Nasr (who finished 3rd in the standings showing constant improvement over his 3 seasons), both of whom bring huge sponsorships to the table rumoured to be around 16 -18 million euros EACH! However the team apparently hasn’t been able to tie up the loose ends with Giedo who has taken them to court but unlike Adrian Sutil who will seek damages, Van der Garde has demanded a race seat for the year.
Surprisingly the courts in both Switzerland (where the team is based) and Australia (where the first race is) have agreed with the Dutchman who apparently should be racing this weekend. However it is thought there has been no seat fitting done as Giedo wasn’t in their plans for this year and now it has emerged that van der Garde hasn’t filled out the proper paperwork and doesn’t have a super license. This throws up yet more issues to a strange episode for the struggling Swiss outfit, who are the 4th longest-serving team after Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.
The team desperately need their current two drivers to race due to the sponsorship they bring but one would assume that Guido is also a pay drive so will be required to bring funds, a super license and a court injunction to race. Furthermore if Guido does race the spurned driver and their sponsors are not going to be too happy!
Continuing the season in review with the team who after 4 seasons of trying finally reached the lowly heights of 10th place in the Constructors Championship – Marussia
Marussia had in previous seasons been the last of the serious efforts on the grid but had managed to finish behind the shambolic HRT outfit in their previous guise as Virgin GP. With the team now folded it meant that the worst they could was finish 11th and 2013 was a season to be optimistic for the team. Charles Pic had been poached by rivals Caterham, leaving a hole in the budget rather than the talent department but this was to be easily filled by perennial GP2 challenger Max Chilton and his large chunk of his fathers Aon money. The team had also now long ditched its attempts to use only CFD to design their cars and had former world champion technical director Pat Symonds on the books.
The first stumbling block was the realisation that either they hadn’t got enough money for the season or that the real challenge would come in 2014 so it was worth covering their costs with a pay driver. The team sent Timo Glock off to DTM (in fact Charles Pic is the only driver to survive in F1 after driving for the team!) and managed to sign up GP2 runner up Luiz Razia. A risk surely but with a good junior pedigree he should of provided some speed and a stern test to Chilton. However it was not to be as the Brazilians sponsors didn’t pull through so despite testing the car the team were still on the lookout for another driver with support to pilot the MR-02 for the season. At this point an offer came along from the other more famous red team: Ferrari.
Jules Bianchi was offered to Marussia in exchange for what we believe to be a greatly reduced costs for engines in 2014 (as no other stickers appeared on the car) which would tick the boxes the team were looking for. Increasinly it seems the top teams are funding the really talented drivers and finding them births lower down the grid. Red Bull have Toro Rosso (and even got the wallet out again for Daniel Ricciardo to toddle around in an HRT for half a season), McLaren attempted it with Kevin Magnussen and now Ferrari have Marussia. But what a turn up for the books that deal would be.
With the team later confirming that the last real update they brought to the car was the Barcelona the business was done early with Jules Bianchi gaining a 13th place in Malaysia to seal 10th place in the Constructors and a nice little boost of prize money. However they will need to repeat the feat in the next two seasons to really reap the rewards and become a Category 2 team.
Max Chilton on the other hand didn’t posses the raw speed of Jules Bianchi but did manage to finish every single race of the season, a first in the history of the sport. Despite having the luxury of doing the complete testing programme he was regularly shown up come Saturday and a deficits of over a second were not uncommon, some progress was made in the latter half of the season but the Briton didn’t shine too brightly against the Ferrari back Bianchi. An average deficit of +0.585 (The worst apart from Esteban Gutierrez who did manage to overcome his issues during the season) over the season in qualifying and an average finishing position of 21st (compared to 19.89 for Jules) do not suggest he is the next World Champion.
Next season will see the team running Ferrari power and continue with Jules Bianchi, the strong indication that for the first time Marussia will stick with its driver pairing and give Chilton another season – and Marussia financials some stability. Its a big year for the two teams at the back of the grid as the new regulations present an opportunity to get on terms with the established teams, it really could be make or break in 2014.
As you all may of read Maria de Villota was injured during a straight line test for Marussia at Duxford (which is a WWII airfield now used as a museam for planes and used by a lot of the F1 teams for straight line testing). From reports thus far she is conscious and stable but her injuries were “life-threating” and very serious. Id like to wish her a speedy recovery from what appears to be a freak accident.
While many have questioned her abilites in a F1 car (her best entry on her CV being a 4th place in a Superleague Formula race) she had already tested a Renault F1 car at Paul Ricard and this was only a straight line test, while she may have suffered from inexperience I dont think she was unqualified to step into a F1 car. This was her first outing as a Marussia Test Driver and hasn’t quite had the PR effect Marussia had been previously created with their female 3rd driver.
She obviously has no superlicense which is why she couldn’t replace Timo Glock last time out at Valencia, this further set back will really raise questions about Marussia’s choice of reserve driver.
Both Charles Pic and Virgin Marussia team boss John Booth have been managing expectations ahead of the Frenchmans race debut in 2012. The driver has only had one day of young drivers testing in Abu Dhabi and with only 12 days of pre-season testing this year for the teams Pic is looking at starting his first Grand Prix weekend with only 7 days of running under his belt.
This is in contrast to rookies prior to 2009 where they would have many days of running on test days before ever stepping foot in a race car. It is making it increasingly hard for rookies to come in and impress in their debut year. Paul Di Resta’s stellar campaign must be attributed in part to his large amount of Friday running before making the jump up to a race seat this year.
The sport really needs to increase the amount of mileage for drivers outside of the 24 race seats to stop this turn and burn of drivers through the ranks.