Flag goes up on race team’s new era

The end of Manor GP as a South Yorkshire-based team. at the NEC's Autosport International Show 2012
The end of Manor GP as a South Yorkshire-based team. at the NEC's Autosport International Show 2012

This year’s Autosport International racing car show at Birmingham’s NEC was a landmark event for Manor Grand Prix’s Marussia Racing Formula 1 team.

It was their first as a non-South Yorkshire-based Formula One outfit.

Unable to delay the inevitable any longer, John Booth’s squad had upped sticks and moved to Banbury, Oxfordshire at the end of 2011.

Manor’s Outgang Lane, Dinnington factory was never really intended to house a Formula 1 construction operation, rather just a team preparing cars manufactured elsewhere.

Through their short two-and-a-half-year existence, there has been a fair share of names for the team, beginning with a partnership with Richard Branson, and hence the original name of ‘Virgin Racing’, via ‘Marussia Virgin Racing’ to the current title of ‘Marussia Racing’ team.

Not that there has been any championship points, let alone podium places gained by the valiant underdogs.

Proud Tykes have worried that once Manor GP became southerners, they would immediately become a serious, points-scoring team, rather than backmarkers and it would look as if they had been held back by being the only Yorkshire-based Formula 1 team.

Sadly things have not changed with the new home.

In preparation for the 2012 season, all the new cars have to pass 18 crash tests before they can attend a series of three “shakedown” events held at three Spanish circuits.

After running the old car at the first event, the new MR-01 could only pass 17 of the tests and so was unable to take part at the other two circuits.

So the first time Marussia Racing’s new car will run in anger will be in practice for this Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix and they could be playing ‘catch-up’ for the rest of the season.

This is what happened in their 2010 debut season, where component supplier’s inconsistent quality control plagued trouble-free running and improving the cars performance.

However improvement was not helped by realising mid-season that the car had been designed with too small a fuel tank to complete a race – necessitating making a completely new chassis.

Nick Wirth, an original Manor Grand Prix partner, was responsible for the chassis design and manufacture. The cars did not set the world of F1 alight but each year’s new car is supposed to be an improvement on its predecessor and they always evolve during the season.

So when 2011’s MVR-02 appeared to be no better – or even worse – than the 2010 car, things came to a head at the Monaco Grand Prix and Wirth was shown the door.

The team bought out his Research Technology company and factory – their eventual new home – but without Wirth’s input the car’s development came to a halt.

They recruited technical consultant, Pat Symonds (of Benetton Renault “crashgate” fame!) to guide them forward while a deal was also signed to share some of the McLaren team’s race-winning technology and facilities, so the future looked rosy for 2012.

Marussia, a Russian sportscar manufacturer, is now the majority shareholder in the team, and Marussia Racing compete under a Russian licence, so when/if that debut podium comes, a Russian, not Union flag, will be displayed.

But Manor GP team boss John Booth insists on the Yorkshire white rose emblem on all of his racing cars, including the latest Marussia racing MR-01.

Which begs the question: “How long will the Russians patience last for Booth’s presence and the white rose emblem to remain as the final two connections with its South Yorkshire roots?”