The Manor F1 racing team finally closed its doors last Friday. The news was not unexpected after the team entered administration earlier this month and all efforts to find a new buyer came to nothing. It’s always a sad day when we lose a team from the grid and I had a real soft spot for this plucky, backmarker outfit. Their website strapline proudly described the team as having ‘a start-up mentality and an upstart ambition.’ They certainly did their best to stir things up and managed to punch way above their weight on more than one occasion.
So I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on some of the team’s finest moments during their 7 year stint on the Formula 1 grid.
First points – Monaco 2014
This was without doubt the team’s finest hour. Jules Bianchi scored the team’s first ever points with a 9th place finish at the iconic Monaco street circuit. He did it in style too, hustling his way past the Caterham of Kamui Kobayashi at La Rascasse. Manor partied as if they had won, and rightly so. Who can forget the footage of Bianchi’s beaming smile as he celebrated with his ecstatic colleagues? These pictures took on even greater meaning after Bianchi’s crash in Japan later that year which ultimately led to his tragic death in July 2015. Those two points scored in Monaco were instrumental to the team’s survival the following year; the prize money attached to their 9th place in the championship helped attract a new buyer and kept them in the game. A heartwarming moment in the history of the sport.
Another point scoring finish – Austria 2016
Manor’s only other points finish was in Austria in 2016, courtesy of the highly rated Pascal Wehrlein. The young German finished a brilliant 10th giving the team a single point. His 12th place grid slot was outstanding, equalling the team’s best ever, and was also only the third time in the team’s history that they progressed beyond Q1 (see below). Manor clung onto 10th place in the constructors’ championship until they were cruelly overtaken by Sauber at Interlagos. Dropping to last place – and the loss of crucial prize money – was a devastating blow which undoubtedly contributed to the team’s demise. Wehrlein went on to win the Autosport Rookie of the Year Award for 2016, a deserved accolade for Pascal and testament to the team’s gutsy endeavours.
Making it through to Q2
Moments like this matter to the backmarker teams. Manor managed this on three occasions. Austria 2016 aside, they also progressed through the first part of qualifying in Spa 2013 and Silverstone 2014. Both sessions were rain affected which can often throw up surprises. Manor took advantage of the chaos to steal a march on their rivals. Spa was particularly impressive as the team risked slick tyres on a drying track. Their bravery paid off and drivers Bianchi and Max Chilton lined up 15th and 16th on race day. The team did even better at the British GP the following year with the same drivers achieving P12 and P13. Small victories, but impressive nonetheless.
Nurturing driver talent
Manor provided a fantastic proving ground for young, hungry drivers eager to make their mark. Jules Bianchi was hailed as a future world champion destined for a Ferrari drive until fate intervened. The aforementioned Pascal Wehrlein is also touted as the real deal. Ironically, he has secured a drive with Sauber for 2017. Esteban Ocon is another rated highly newbie who has now joined Force India. Both will be determined to showcase their talent to front running teams. Both owe much gratitude to Manor for giving them their F1 racing start.
Finally (and slightly off topic) I’d like to give praise for Manor’s eye-catching retro branding. The vintage look harked back to another racing era and I always looked forward to seeing their latest race poster. Sometimes it’s the little things that can leave a lasting impression.
Photo credit: Autosport