Like each year, we present our very own season review, hand-crafted by our Formula 1 hitlady Dessislava Jeleva. It’s a fresh team-by-team report of 2015, from the heights of Mercedes to pits of Manor, including all relevant shifts, tricks and twists in the travelling circus of Formula 1.
This year the teams were given alternative Star Wars titles, enjoy!
The double-bladed lightsaber
The 2014 season for Mercedes was so spectacular that it seemed impossible to repeat. The Brackley-based outfit, however, did it again and did it better this year. Both world titles were wrapped up by the United States Grand Prix, a month before the end of the season. Now, the geniuses at Brackley and Brixworth take on the challenge to complete a perfect treble and they have all the right ingredients to make it happen.
The class of the field
Ferrari made big strides in power unit development during the last 12 months. The Italian hybrid turbo system is almost on par with Mercedes’s. Almost. In-season development helped Mercedes stay one step ahead throughout the year. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg started the season with a crushing advantage and finished it in a similar manner. The Ferrari engineers had put most on their efforts to finally matching Mercedes at the Italian Grand Prix, but were dumbfounded when the Mercedes High Performance Powertrains unit used up seven update tokens to stay well ahead.
The Brixworth power unit operation, however, should not get the entire credit for the team’s success. The aerodynamics department at Brackley is also pushing the boundaries. Mercedes’s car is equally impressive at high downforce street tracks like Monaco and high speed race tracks like Monza.
Mercedes’s management and shareholder structure certainly raised some eyebrows when it was set up two years ago.
Mercedes’s strength is not only its own staff. The team’s sponsors and partners are also at the cutting edge of their fields. The team recently began partnerships with the electronics manufacturer Epson (producer of printers, scanners, 3LCD projectors and smart glasses) and semiconductor company Qualcomm. The tie-in with Qualcomm is particularly important as it allows the Mercedes engineers to wirelessly stream telemetry data from the car at extremely high speeds.
Real-time data analysis allows the team to excel everywhere and react to changing conditions swiftly. A slight disturbance in the tracking of the cars in Monaco resulted in Lewis Hamilton surrendering a certain race win. With partners like Qualcomm, Mercedes is working to minimize such ‘no data’ moments and pursuing continuous innovation on and off-the-track.
Perfect harmony at the top
Mercedes’s management and shareholder structure certainly raised some eyebrows when it was set up two years ago. Toto Wolff is Executive Director (Business) and owns 30% of the Formula 1 team. Paddy Lowe is Executive Director (Technical). Niki Lauda is non-executive chairman and owns 10% of the team. The three of them work in harmony and have steered the company to the unbelievable 32 wins in the last 38 races.
Certain media outlets reported there was a rift at the top with regards to Red Bull Racing’s quest to obtain Mercedes power units. Lauda had worked hard on a deal with fellow Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz, but his efforts were undermined by Wolff’s pursue of Manor as a fourth customer. The rumours that suggested Lauda could leave before the end of the season, however, could not be further from the truth. Both managers agree that a deal with RBR that could threaten the team’s dominance in Formula 1 could only make sense if it was underwritten by a serious partnership across the board.
Mercedes has all the right ingredients behind the scenes and Lewis Hamilton have put them to great use in the last two years. In 2015, it was obvious from the start that Hamilton would secure his third title well in advance. Nico Rosberg, however, demonstrated considerable progress in the last three races of the season. The chips are set for another titanic battle between the two drivers.
Go to next pages for reviews of other F1 teams:
The shattered empire
The rebuilding of Ferrari started so well. The 2015 car was a massive step up from their atrocious 2014 challenger. Sebastian Vettel broke the dry spell for the Scuderia by winning three races and a pole position. It seemed that the Italians were on the way back to being a genuine championship contender. That was merely a few months ago. Ferrari will not return as the team to beat in Formula 1, because all signs suggest that the chaos is back at Maranello.
Making the convenient choice
The fans that hoped that the Ferrari management had a genuine recovery plan got the first cue that was not the case soon after the summer break. The “Vettel teammate saga” finished with the team extending Kimi Raikkonen’s contract to 2016. Raikkonen’s driving since his return at Maranello has not been spectacular and it did not miraculously improve since the extension was signed.
The Finn is the convenient choice for the position, because he is probably Vettel’s choice. The two drivers seem to have a great off-track chemistry and the aging world champion is no longer a match on the track for the German. Rather than looking around for a driver that could get the best out of the 2016 car, the Ferrari management proceeded the same way they would during Fernando Alonso’s time at Maranello. They hired the driver that was not a challenge for their Number 1.
Investors do not care about “Formula 1 legacy”, they care about profits.
Scared by Red Bull
Keeping a driver that scores half the points of his teammate is not the only similarity with the subpar 2010-2014 era at Ferrari. The engineers at Maranello are still afraid of being comprehensively beaten by those at Milton Keynes. Six months ago, the Scuderia Chairman Sergio Marchionne was loudly proclaiming that he had no problem supplying Red Bull Racing with power units, because the Scuderia aerodynamicists were good enough to handle the competition. The boasting, however, ended when Red Bull actually came begging for engines.
Rather than agreeing to supply both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso with 2016 power units, the team forced the Strategy Group into allowing in-season develop and year-old-spec engines. There is no calmness behind the scenes and probably no clear long-term plan to make the aerodynamics department at Maranello the best in the field. The Italians are afraid of fighting RBR on equal footing, because very little has changed since they were comprehensively beaten between 2009 and 2014.
It will get worse
What spells doom to any chances of Mercedes having their work cut out in 2016, is that the problems at Ferrari will only get worse going forward. Ferrari is being spun off from its parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. One tenth of Ferrari’s shares was recently floated on the New York Stock Exchange. Another 80% will be sold to FCA’s shareholders early next year.
The Wall Street investors do not care about “Formula 1 legacy”, they care about profits. Ferrari’s top management will be reluctant to dump money into short-term engine development. The racing division will need to learn to work on a budget. It will also be forced to live with the short-term thinking associated with delivering positive figures right away. Their 2016 Formula 1 car better be something special, because the target next year will certainly not be two wins.
Searching for Yoda
Williams seemingly has it all: a contract with Mercedes (Red Bull Racing tried everything to get one but couldn’t), a talented young driver (many pundits see a world title in Valtteri Bottas’s future) and an energetic Deputy Team Principal. Despite all of this, the team showed little progress between 2014 and 2015. Williams seems destined to remain the team that occasionally snatches podiums but never wins races or titles. The team has several weaknesses that require a ‘touch’ of a wise master.
Only a customer
Yes, being Mercedes’s customer in the hybrid turbo era has lifted Williams from only scoring five points and finishing ninth in constructors’ championship in 2013 to securing the third place in the teams’ standings for two consecutive seasons (2014-2015). Third, however, is the best Williams can hope for as a customer. Williams does not have the resources and the internal information to compete with the works Mercedes team.
Williams will always be behind under the current engine-dominated formula. McLaren wisely realised this back in 2013 and went out looking for a works relationship with an engine manufacturer. Yes, Honda’s 2015 power unit was horrible, but in the long-run their analysis is correct. Williams needs a works relationship in a time where few manufacturers seem interested in joining the sport.
Williams will always be behind under the current engine-dominated formula.
Pit lane problems
Despite Mercedes’s blistering pace throughout the season and Ferrari’s surprisingly strong 2015 challenge, Williams had a shot at winning a race this season. A strong start gave Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas the lead during the early stages of the British Grand Prix. Bottas’s pace during the first stint was stronger, but he was ordered to hold station behind Massa. The decision proved to be suboptimal as it allowed Lewis Hamilton to close the gap and to take the lead after the first round of pit stops.
The team order at Silverstone was somewhat reasonable: a prolonged fight between Bottas and Massa might also have resulted in Hamilton closing the gap. Williams’s other pit lane problems, however, are unforgivable. Bottas’s car was fitted with three soft-compound tyres and a medium-compound one. This led to a penalty and the scrapping of a set of mediums tyres and it certainly did not give the Finn an advantage on the track. And it was not the last problem for Williams. An unsafe release during the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix caused a collision between Bottas’s Williams and the McLaren of Jenson Button. These are rookie mistakes that require serious consideration.
The fundamental cause of the other two problems, however, might be Williams’s small budget. In 2015, the team had 186 million euro at its disposal. Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull Racing splashed more than 460 million euro each. At this point, Williams cannot afford to spend hundreds of millions of euro on an engine development project to bare the fruits of a works relationship.
Williams needs a mentor that is willing to invest in the company. A ‘Niki Lauda-like figure’ would be a calming presence behind the scenes and the extra funds would allow the management to focus on the small issues instead of worrying about the big picture all the time.
The battle of Endor
Every ending is a new beginning. The 2014 Formula 1 season brought about many changes at Milton Keynes. The genius Adrian Newey decided to limit his involvement with the team to pursue other interests. The golden boy Sebastian Vettel fulfilled his childhood dream and moved to Ferrari. The season would have been difficult even without the engine mayhem that marked most of it.
Red Bull seemed confident when the hybrid turbo era started because they had a solid relationship with a partner that actively pushed for hybrid technology expansion in Formula 1. In 2015, the partnership disintegrated when it became evident that Renault were not willing to put the necessary resources to improve their engines. Ferrari ramped up its spending to compete with Mercedes and delivered constant PU updates in 2015. Renault barely fielded one change and seemed clueless in engine development.
The relationship with Renault had to end. The manner, in which the divorce happened, however, was far from optimal. Six months of bickering in the media and behind closed doors resulted in Red Bull Racing cancelling their 2016 contract with Renault. The only problem was that both Mercedes and Ferrari were so scared by the talent of Newey and his successors in the aerodynamic department in Milton Keynes that they refused to supply RBR with power units. Honda was never really an option as their 2015 engine was unspeakably bad and their works team McLaren vetoed supplying Red Bull Racing.
The last time TAG gave its name to an engine, it was a V6 turbo Porsche. Maybe the history is set to repeat itself with fellow Germans Audi?
At the end, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko got one back at Ron Dennis by luring away long-time sponsor TAG Heuer. The Swiss watchmaker will not only fund the team but will also give its name to Red Bull Racing’s 2016 engine. With no other option on the market, it will once again be a Renault, but it appears that RBR will have the freedom to develop the engine separately from the French manufacturer. The TAG engine plans, however, were confirmed very late in 2015 as they took a long time to hammer out, so Red Bull Racing will probably not be very competitive in the first half of 2016.
Not having RBR amongst the teams fighting for titles and champions is a shame, because they are really adding value to the sport. Their ‘gives you wings’ marketing is reaching a young audience that would otherwise not pay too much attention to Formula 1. And, despite losing Vettel to childhood dreams and an extraordinary wage, RBR has a very solid driver lineup. During his first season with the team, Daniil Kvyat narrowly beat Daniel Ricciardo in the drivers’ championship. Both Dani and Dan did their best to score solid results despite facing frequent PU-related retirements.
Both drivers deserve to be fighting for the world championship but the TAG/Renault scheme is only a temporary solution. Red Bull cannot build a power unit division overnight. They need a solid partner with experience in engine development. Interestingly enough, the last time TAG gave its name to an engine, it was a V6 turbo Porsche. Maybe the history is set to repeat itself with fellow Germans Audi?
The lovable scoundrels
Formula 1 success is not only about money. Forging and keeping the right relationships is also extremely important. Financially, Force India, is not the healthiest Formula 1 team, but it is punching far above its weight on the track. On a budget of 129,700,000 euro (per Business Book GP), the third lowest in Formula 1, the team finished fifth in the championship. The Silverstone-based outfit managed to outscore not only fellow midfielders Sauber, Lotus and Toro Rosso, but also the financial juggernaut McLaren. How did they do it?
By hiring cheap talent
The Force India management has hit the sweet spot in terms of talent recruitment. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez are promising young talents with solid experience in the sport. Ever since the B-spec of the car was introduced for the team’s home race on Silverstone, both drivers have delivered very solid results. Sergio Perez even managed to snatch a podium finish at the Russian Grand Prix.
Both drivers are indeed very capable, but since none of them is considered an outright star of the sport, their combined salaries are estimated to amount to only 8 million euro. In comparison, McLaren’s budget for driver compensation is believed to be around 45 million euro. That’s a big difference in spending for dog fights at the tail end of the point-scoring positions.
Both drivers are indeed very capable, but since none of them is considered an outright star of the sport, their combined salaries are estimated to amount to only 8 million euro.
By keeping Mercedes close
Force India just finished their seventh season as a Mercedes customer. Their relationship with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains started just before the Brixworth-based engine supplier’s partnership with its own works team at Brackley did. At the end of the V8 era, some midfield teams decided to change their engine suppliers. Williams moved from Renault to Mercedes, Toro Rosso abandoned Ferrari for Renault. Force India stayed with Mercedes and has been reaping the fruits of the partnership in the hybrid turbo era.
The long-term relationship with the engine suppliers allows the designers in Silverstone to focus their efforts on performance improvements rather than figuring out how to adapt to a new powertrain. Yes, the Mercedes engines are not cheap, but the earnings from finishing at a historic best fifth place in the constructors’ championship are more than covering the expense.
By forging a new partnership with Aston Martin
At the end of the 2015 season, most of the efforts of the Force India management have been focused on completing a long-term agreement with Aston Martin. The partnership is expected to result to the Silverstone-based outfit being rebranded as Aston Martin Racing. The relationship would help the team in attracting luxury and high performance brands as sponsors. The first such sponsorship opportunity appears to be luring Johnnie Walker away from McLaren.
The 2016 Aston Martins are expected to don a blue and gold livery (Johnnie Walker’s colors) and be powered by Mercedes hybrid engines. Daimler AG (Mercedes’s parent company) is a minority shareholder in Aston Martin and is already supplying the British luxury car manufacturer with power plants and electrical systems. Starting a partnership with Aston Martin is a natural extension of Force India’s relationship with Mercedes.
Lost on Dagobah
Sub-Heading: Five years ago, Renault pulled the plug on its works Formula 1 operation and sold its Enstone-based team to Genii Capital in the wake of the Crashgate scandal. A little after the end of the 2015 Formula 1 season, the French manufacturer announced that it would once again compete in the pinnacle of motorsport. Renault is returning to Enstone, but the Lotus’s last season as an independent operation has been nerve-racking.
Taking forever to decide
Soon after Renault’s initial fallout with Red Bull Racing at the start of the 2015 season, it became evident that the car manufacturer’s senior management was considering two options for its Formula 1 future. It could either abandon the sport completely, or come back with a works team under Renault’s complete control. Initially, it seemed that Toro Rosso captured the French manufacturer’s interest, but the conflict with Red Bull was so profound that no serious negotiations appear to have taken place between the two parties.
Midway through the season it was already clear that Renault’s works plans were set on its former partners at Enstone. Yet, the decision dragged on until past the end of the season. The primary disagreement was not between Lotus and Renault, it was between Renault and the commercial rights holders. Renault’s hopes for the financial future of the Enstone operation were partially based on a legacy status for the team. Such status has been bestowed upon Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull Racing and Mercedes.
The more likely the sale to Renault became, the more reluctant to invest in the team’s future was Genii capital.
Wasted potential on the track
Under its belt Renault has ten constructors’ titles as an engine supplier and two more as a full works team. It most certainly deserves a legacy status more than Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. But the nine months in limbo certainly did not help Lotus in 2015. The team started the season with a good car, especially compared to the atrocious 2014 challenger, and even managed to record a podium at Spa.
Lotus, however, could not really fight for anything better than the sixth position in the constructors’ championship as major in-season upgrades were prohibitively expensive. The more likely the sale to Renault became, the more reluctant to invest in the team’s future was Genii capital. The situation internally was so difficult that the management could not keep Romain Grosjean on board past 2015.
Broken relationships with suppliers
Letting star driver and team leader Grosjean go was a minor crisis, but it is just one of many that the team faced throughout the season. In Hungary, Pirelli was unwilling to supply the team with tyres before it was paid for its prior services. Then in Belgium, the teams’ trucks seized because of legal dispute with former test driver Charles Pic. In Japan, the team was locked out of its hospitality unit because of unpaid bills. And the drama continued in similar manner in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
It is believed that Bernie Ecclestone repeatedly swooped and covered Lotus’s outstanding payments. Renault, however, should not have let the team disappoint its suppliers so much in the first place. These are mostly partners with which Renault would need to work in the future. Yet, the Renault management waited until the situation at Enstone was hopeless (with the team being hours away from entering administration) before finally agreeing upon the purchase.
A new hope
Let’s face it, the 2015 Formula 1 season was not that interesting. Ferrari and Mercedes were almost untouchable in the fight for podium places. Manor were so far behind the midfield that they might as well not have been there at all. The gaps between the top, the midfield and the bottom were so huge that there was barely any racing going on. In this desperate time, the sole glimmer of hope for Formula 1 fans was Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen.
Changing the record books
Verstappen started putting his name in the record books as soon as the season started. He is the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix and to score points. Verstappen will get to keep these records for a good long while as the regulations from 2016 onwards do not allow teenagers under 18 to participate in Formula 1 races. Now, Verstappen’s sights are set on a few additional youngest records, currently held by ex-Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Vettel: youngest pole-sitter, youngest Grand Prix winner and youngest world champion.
Verstappen breaking a bunch of youngest records is no surprise, of course. Getting teenage talent into Formula 1 is Scuderia Toro Rosso’s reason for existence. The team’s limited budget makes it impossible to make any real strides in the constructors’ championship. Though, a 2015 Ferrari power unit, rather than a reworked Renault engine, might make the junior outfit a lot more competitive than Red Bull Racing in the early stages of 2016.
Just to keep the power unit contract going forward, STR might just not fight too much with Ferrari on this issue.
There is more to Max than his youth
Yes, Verstappen is a talented young driver, but the European Formula 3’s field is filled with talented drivers. There is a reason why the Dutch prodigy made it to Formula 1 so fast. Verstappen possesses the unique vision and style that separate good drivers from great ones. He overtakes at places where no other driver is brave enough to. He finishes fourth with a car that is only lower-top-10 capable (and an engine that is barely able to take him to the finishing line).
In a season defined by Mercedes 1-2s, Verstappen was one of the few drivers that kept us awake and excited during the races. Next year with a Ferrari engine, he will certainly do even better. Then, his star will be too big to keep at STR. Red Bull have a big problem as neither Daniel Ricciardo nor Daniil Kvyat are exactly dismissible material and they might not be able to promote Verstappen fast enough. With Kimi Raikkonen most likely retiring for good post-2016, Ferrari will probably try to poach him. And just to keep the power unit contract going forward, STR might just not fight too much with the bigger Italian team.
Beware of the dark side
A seat at Ferrari alongside Sebastian Vettel is one possible future for Max Verstappen, but it is not set in stone. Verstappen’s talent is still a bit unpolished. Over the 2015 season, he managed to score eight penalty points. This puts him on top of the “Bad boys” list, ahead of Pastor Maldonado, whose nickname is “Crashtor”. What is even more worrying is that Verstappen has been penalised for causing a collision (in Monaco), speeding under safety car (in Hungary), overtaking by going off-track and ignoring blue flags (in Abu Dhabi).
The infringements alongside the Dutch driver’s refusal to comply with team orders in Singapore suggest there is a negative underlying trend. Verstappen’s driving is brilliant but he spaces out occasionally and goes for the wrong kind of crazy moves. Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez exhibited the same behavior early on in their careers and they are now unlikely to become true stars of the sport. Verstappen’s marketing power at Scuderia Toro Rosso is so big that the team’s management might be afraid to rein his disobedient nature in.
The moisture farmers from Tatooine
No, the managers of Sauber are not trying to farm moisture on a desert planet, but their lives are almost as difficult. Ever since BMW abandoned Peter Sauber’s people, the team has been sliding backwards in the standings. The Swiss team hit rock bottom in 2014, so naturally the only way was up afterwards. The 2015 season was complicated, but Sauber showed some progress.
A difficult start behind the scenes
Sauber had shown promise during the pre-season testing, but they almost did not race in Australia. Giedo van der Garde took legal action against the team for breach of contract. The Dutch driver’s backers had paid a significant ‘sponsorship fee’ to secure a 2015 race seat for him. Giedo had a valid contract with the team, but Sauber still ended up fielding up Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson as its 2015 race lineup.
The Swede and the Brazilian came with more lucrative sponsorship packages. When signing Ericsson and Nasr, however, Sauber did not pay van der Garde’s backers back and the Australian Grand Prix scandal ensued. The lawsuit could have resulted in the team’s cars being seized by the court in Melbourne, but a last minute settlement in which the Dutch driver was compensated appropriately put an end to the storm in a water glass.
The moment the Brazilian finds a better spot further up the grid, Banco do Brasil will jump ship too.
A great start on the track
The drama off-track in Australia was offset by a great performance in the race. The pointless 2014 was all but forgotten after a marvelous double Top 10 finish in Melbourne. Felipe Nasr finished his first ever Formula 1 race at P5 and eclipsed even the debut of Max Verstappen. A combination of a significantly improved Ferrari power unit and only 11 cars finishing the opening race gave Ericsson and Nasr a good opportunity to show their worth.
Five additional point-scoring finishes later on in the season took Nasr to 13th position in the drivers’ championship, five positions higher than Ericsson. The standings difference between Sauber’s two drivers is the biggest between teammates in 2015, a season in which most driver pairings appeared one in front of the other in the driver standings.
All the right ingredients
Sauber has a really great infrastructure and is one of the best equipped midfield teams, but it is struggling. Its finances have not really recovered since the relationship with BMW ended. Banco do Brasil is a solid title sponsor but it is only there to support Felipe Nasr. The moment the Brazilian finds a better spot further up the grid, Banco do Brasil will jump ship too.
Nasr will not stay around for long. As soon as the veterans Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button start retiring, the Brazilian will be poached. He is certainly far more talented than Giedo van der Garde, but the manner in which the van der Garde situation was handled makes one wonder if Sauber’s current management is up to the task.
An empire in crisis
I was wrong to think Ron Dennis was the right manager to lead McLaren back to success. Martin Whitmarsh’s softness had little to do with McLaren’s fall from grace. The entire culture at Woking should be reassessed.
Dennis still handles the team as if it is the trend-setter in Formula 1. This has not been the case in at least seven years. Ever since the Spygate scandal in 2007, the team has been descending into mediocrity and it finally hit rock bottom in 2015. And there have been no real efforts to reverse the trend.
McLaren’s budget is one of the highest in Formula 1. Yet, the team finished the 2015 season at ninth position in the constructors’ championship. This was McLaren’s worst season in 35 years. It is no surprise that high-end sponsors started abandoning ship. Santander is leaving and so is Johnnie Walker. The two brands follow in the footsteps of Vodafone and Hugo Boss that also decided they were not getting the expected PR return on their sponsorship money.
The worst sponsor loss (not in terms of finances, but in terms of negative PR), however, is the one of TAG Heuer. Both sides admitted that there was no longer a fit between the two brands with TAG Heuer’s recently appointed CEO Jean-Claude Biver looking for a more youthful image. Biver found the perfect new partner in Red Bull Racing, while Dennis seemed glad to severe a relationship that did not fit the clean-shaven corporate image of McLaren.
The McLaren-Honda project still makes sense as only works teams seem to have any chance of success under the current engine formula.
McLaren has been without a title sponsor ever since Vodafone left the sport in 2013. But, rather than looking for an appropriate new partner, Dennis has been focusing on internal power struggles. The CEO has been trying to increase his stake in the company and obtain full control, ever since forcing Martin Whitmarsh out in January 2014. For McLaren’s sake, however, Dennis should be looking for young investors that could bring a different perspective to the company.
McLaren’s current philosophy centered on theoretical perfection led it to designing a zero-size car with no power. Honda are not blameless for the disaster that the 2015 turbo hybrid engine was, but McLaren’s chassis designers had asked for a small engine to fit their allegedly aerodynamically perfect car. At the end, McLaren’s chassis is even not the best in Formula 1, trailing behind the ones of Red Bull Racing and Mercedes.
Hope for the future
Despite Dennis’s efforts to destroy the racing team, there is still hope. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button are probably the most talented driver partnership in the sport and Honda is more than willing to pay half their wages to keep them at Woking. Furthermore, there are already positive signs on the track. In his final stint on supersoft tyres in Abu Dhabi, Alonso nearly matched the pace of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
The power unit designers at Honda have already identified the main sources of the engine’s problems. Over the winter, they are allowed to make the fundamental changes that they could not complete under the in-season development regulations. The McLaren-Honda project still makes sense as only works teams seem to have any chance of success under the current engine formula.
Still at the garbage compactor
The last 20 months have been horrible for Manor. In April 2014, their title sponsor Marussia was disbanded. Six months later, the team’s star driver Jules Bianchi suffered a fatal accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. Then, the team was placed under administration and its staff could not prepare a new car for the 2015 season in time.
It briefly seemed that the Banbury-based outfit was destined to follow in the footsteps of HRT and Caterham and disappear from Formula 1. One season later, there are more positive signs for the future of Manor, but there are also new huge challenges on the horizon to overcome.
To race or not to race
No team found the participation in the 2015 Formula 1 season more difficult, everyone know that. Manor was forced to deliver a b-spec of their 2014 car that could house Ferrari’s lousy 2014 engine (there was no time for a complete redesign around the 2015 Italian power unit), but comply with the 2015 front wing regulations. The hastily assembled challenger was painfully slow and no points in the 2015 season made Manor seem incapable of actually racing against the rest of the field.
They need stable financing and management and even then catching the midfield might still be years away.
Glimmers of hope?
The 2015 season was horrible on the track, but inside affairs started looking up for the British back-marker. Stephen Fitzpatrick, a local businessman, invested 45 million dollars in the outfit to get it out of administration and has committed to funding it for at least one more season. The team’s budget was boosted further by a 50-million-dollar prize money injection following from Marussia finishing ninth in the 2014 constructors’ standings.
The team’s survival in Formula 1 was not only down to Fitzpatrick’s money, but also to the efforts of President Graeme Lowdon and Team Principal John Booth. The two executives managed to reassemble the team after the 2014-2015 winter brake and even negotiate a technical partnership deal with Mercedes. The deal will see Manor race with Mercedes engines, but Lowdon and Booth will not be around to steer the team forward in 2016. They are both resigning, seemingly because of an internal conflict with Fitzpatrick.
Things are not looking up for Manor. They need stable financing and management and even then catching the midfield might still be years away.