MAR 09th 2015

Henry Hope‑Frost celebrates the return of Manor F1

I’m certain I wasn’t alone in enjoying – relishing, even – the news last week that British outfit Manor F1 has joined the other nine teams on the entry list for the opening grand prix in Melbourne this weekend.

After several months of administrative, legal, financial, political and moral toil following the collapse last year of the Marussia squad, this new venture has stared the impossible in the face and flicked the Vs at it, ensuring that, all being well, we’ll have 20 cars on the grid in Australia.

Jules Bianchi Manor

The situation for Oxfordshire-based Marussia in the second half of 2014 was dire. The horrendous accident that befell its number-one driver, highly rated Ferrari protege Jules Bianchi, in Japan in early October rocked the team and the sport. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, the team went into administration after just one more race, the inaugural Russian GP.

As a result, hundreds of jobs were lost, with the knock-on effect being felt way down the supply chain. And when Caterham went with it, albeit returning for a final flurry in the season finale in Abu Dhabi, it rang alarm bells throughout the sport.

Now, though, the wreckage has been gathered up and painstakingly and lovingly put back together, thanks to the diligence, foresight and passion of its new owner, Ovo Energy boss Stephen Fitzpatrick, the team’s sporting director Graeme Lowdon and interim chairman Justin King – formerly boss of Sainsbury’s.

And this time, it seems, the business model has been glued together properly. Creditors have been dealt with one-by-one, with a new engine-supply deal thrashed out on sound commercial terms with Ferrari. One can’t really imagine the Scuderia wasting its time with anything less.

Will_Stevens_09032015

Following the team’s progress on social media channels has been fascinating. Every hurdle has thus far been leapt over: a 2014 Marussia chassis has been modified to conform to 2015 regulations, the stringent FIA-mandated crash tests have been passed, entries have been logged and accepted by Formula One Management (ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone’s it-who-shall-be-obeyed organisation) and British rising star Will Stevens has been signed. A second driver will, of course, be announced very soon.

Twenty-three-year-old Stevens made his F1 debut for Caterham in that farewell race in Abu Dhabi and did an impressive job against experienced team-mate Kamui Kobayashi. He deserves a chance to bank some mileage, grow his reputation and fly the flag for British F1 folk who can’t (yet) win grands prix and drivers’ world titles or scoop BBC Sports Personality pots.

I’m delighted that this team of ‘racers’ has come this far and hope it can mount a credible, season-long challenge. F1 needs its underdogs to pick up scraps from the top table, occasionally get under the feet of the big boys and create some much-needed feel-good headlines. With serious businessmen at the helm, it’s looking good.

To the Manor reborn!

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