The story of Manor in Formula One, is stuff of legend already. Entering in 2010, they struggled as the expected cost-cap didn’t materialise and losing the coveted 10th in the 2012 constructors in the closing laps in Brazil that year. Achieving that in 2013, was a key goal, and they did, allowing them to kick on for 2014.
No-one knew at the time, but the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, would ensure that the team known as Manor Racing MRT today, would be on the gird. An inspired drive to P9, actually P8 on the road, meant that the late Jules Bianchi's legacy would be that he saved the team. P9 in the 2014 championship, meant that the team would, just, be on the 2015 grid.
A 2014 chassis and Ferrari Power Unit, meant that the team would be trailing around at the back of the field, never in serious contention for points. However, that didn’t matter. 2015 was all about getting the team up and racing again, and founders John Booth and Graeme Lowdon did exactly that, before stepping down at the end of the season.
2016 would be a massive improvement from the team. A brand new chassis, the MRT05, was designed by John McQuilliam – one of the old school designers as well as former Ferrari men, Pat Fry and Nikolas Tombazis joining the team.
Crucially a deal was signed with Mercedes, to provide class-leading power units to the team, as well as a deal with Williams to provide the back-end of the chassis. McQuilliam described the new car by saying “only the fire-extinguisher” was carried over from 2015.
Reigning DTM champion, and Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein would be joined by GP2 driver Rio Haryanto as the latest chapter in the incredible Manor Racing story was about to be written.
What the MRT05 lacks in downforce, it makes up for in straight-line grunt. Regularly throughout the first half of the season, when speed-trap classifications are shown on the TV feed, the Manor will almost certainly be at the top, quite handy at circuits like Canada, Austria, Spa and Monza.
As the old maxim goes, “to finish first, first you must finish”, and the Manor has had almost bullet proof reliability, with the overwhelming majority of the DNF’s posted coming from rookie driver errors – including the double DNF in Britain in the tricky wet conditions. If you are running, there’s always a possibility of some points.
In Austria, 26 months after Bianchi’s efforts in Monaco, Wehrlein crossed the Austrian finish line, in 10th place. Securing a solitary, single, yet priceless point. Chances are that, with Sauber continuing to struggle, that point will be enough for 10th in the constructors. If that’s the case then the resultant prize money will be key for future chassis development.
The youngest ever winner of the DTM championship, once a vacancy opens up at Mercedes, young German Pascal Wehrlein will surely be promoted, having been placed at Manor to serve his F1 apprenticeship.
An inauspicious first qualifying session saw him out-qualified by Haryanto, before racing comfortably to P16.
P13 in Bahrain was result that showed what he could be capable of, where he raced wheel-to-wheel with faster cars, comfortably holding his own. A series of finishes just outside the points showed his consistency and capability of bringing a car home, before his day arrived in Austria.
In Saturday qualifying, he made it through to Q2 – the first time a Manor driver had done that since Belgium in 2014 – before lining up P12. An assured drive, around a circuit his DTM days had brought him to, Wehrlein crossed the line a lap down, in 10th place.
A rookie mistake at Silverstone brought him back down to earth however, with a spin on intermediate tyres in tricky conditions showing that the first ever part-Mauritian F1 driver still has a way to go before he is the finished article.
Rating out of 10: 7
The first ever Indonesian driver in F1, Haryanto, brought with him a sizeable sponsorship package, but to label him as yet another ‘Pay-driver’ would be utterly unfair.
Out-qualifying Wehrlein on debut was a surprising start, and he more than held his own on Saturday afternoons, just losing the head-to-head battle 7-5. But the pace was there.
On Sunday’s he tended to struggle, with his best results being 15th in Monaco, and 16th in Austria.
Haryanto’s deal with the team only ever ran until the Hungarian GP, based on his ability to provide the sponsorship money. Despite his strong backing at home, the funds ran dry and the team allowed him to compete in Germany, a week after Hungary, in the hope that he would be able to find a solution.
Unfortunately for him, the sport and Indonesia, a solution could not be found and Haryanto was dropped from driving duties, although he is staying on a reserve driver, whilst Wehrlein is joined by fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon from Spa onwards.
Haryanto proved himself to be a more than capable driver, regardless of his unfair tag, Niki Lauda was once a pay-driver, and should he get another chance in F1, the team who take him on will get a driver who tries 110% no matter the circumstances.
Rating out of 10: 7
Goals for the rest of the season:
The team need to continue to add downforce and develop their chassis. With two rookie drivers, in Wehrlein and Ocon, and 12 grand prix between them, that could be challenge, but there are enough talented people at Manor to make it happen.
The Spa and Monza double-header will likely be the team’s best chance of adding to their point.
Whatever the rest of the season holds, the latest chapter of the Manor story has been thrilling and a just reward. After the dark-day of October 5th 2014 and the subsequent administration and folding of Marussia, and the long-hard road of 2015, finally the sun is shining again over this plucky little team.