As the sun seems to be setting on Manor Racing’s time in Formula One, blame can be laid firmly at the feet of F1’s big boys.
A sad day for the sport
As the news broke on Friday morning that the latest casualties of Formula One’s dizzying costs were the Manor Racing Formula One team, I paused for a moment to reflect on what has led to their eventual and, let’s face it, inevitable departure.
My thoughts also veered towards the hundreds of staff both back at base in Banbury and trackside who tirelessly labour week in and week out to give their drivers the best machinery possible. The thought that such a large amount of people face immediate uncertainty is not an easy one to stomach and I feel sorry for them on this dark day.
In the days and weeks that follow much will be written about the team: their perceived successes, failures and the impressions that they have made on F1. Many will debate that for a team with such sparse resource, they held their own and scoring a world championship point in 2016 was a success.
Others will explain that during their time in F1, whether it be under the guises of Virgin, Marussia or Manor, they failed to move forward from propping up the grid and never threatened to be “competitive”. Whatever your concluding thoughts, spare one for the aforementioned staff – even turning up at Grands Prix takes an incredible amount of effort and I thank them for all they have given.
The final nail in the coffin
From the off, Manor were embroiled in a season-long slog with Sauber in which they eventually came off worse, and it would be the 2016 standings that sealed their fate.
After Sauber-bound Pascal Wehrlein secured their singular championship point in Spielberg, it looked as if the Banbury-based outfit had done enough to clinch tenth place in the championship and take home a whole heap of extra (needed) prize money.
However, a rain-soaked Brazilian grand prix turned the tables as Felipe Nasr collected two world championship points for the Swiss team and this proved pivotal as Sauber leapfrogged them in the standings.
The root cause…
If you were to follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to the source of Manor’s woes, you would be faced by an impenetrable fortress created by those at the top of the sport. The positions created for the heavyweights is almost laughable. Bernie Ecclestone, in his role as the representative for CVC has masterminded lucrative deals for them as well as the larger teams and this greed sees others left out in the cold in terms of revenue.
Slightly less than 50% of Formula One’s revenues is divided amongst the competing teams based on a few factors. Obviously, where a team finishes in the championship is key. In short, the higher you finish, the more money you are given by the commercial rights holder. Thus, if you struggle to attract the necessary backing in order to climb your way up the mountain that is the constructors standings, you will find yourself in a vicious cycle of incurring huge debt leading to an inability to produce a car unable to thrust you upwards.
In 2016, Autosport were privy to the payments that the competing teams were due to receive based on the previous season. Each team is given a certain amount for turning up (COL 1), apart from Haas as their first season was 2016. The second column shows the difference in awarded prize monies based on the 2015 constructors standings and it is plain to see that there is a gulf between title winners Mercedes and Manor in plum last. Factor in the CCB payments that the big four have negotiated for themselves and it is no wonder that David finds it nigh-on impossible to challenge Goliath.
The fact that Scuderia Ferrari were given a long-standing team bonus of $70m perfectly shows how the leading teams have bestowed upon themselves a sense of self-importance that defies all logic.
True, Ferrari are a team with a rich history in the sport and they no doubt evoke images of many of its greatest moments. But how can a team that has underperformed for so long be taking home such a large proportion of the spoils when those at the back struggle to make ends meet?
It’s not just the boys from Maranello either. For too long those at the top have talked about making the sport more competitive, the racing more exciting and improving accessibility. Yet what are we left with? A procession for an hour and a half every other Sunday because behind the scenes those in power seek to protect their position atop F1’s ivory tower.
F1 in purgatory
Formula One is distanced from the real world and this is one of the factors that makes it so appealing for many around the globe. However, the series is losing fans to other forms of Motorsport as enthusiasts seek more excitement and accessibility.
This sombre moment should serve as a wake-up call for the sport. In the space of a week, we have learnt that the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is under threat and one team has folded. It all comes back to capital and those in command need to even out the disparities at every level if we are to avoid the point of no return.
I don’t want to see the sport I love limp from year to year as audiences dwindle and the major manufacturers dominate. It’s time for change and the arrival of Liberty Media will hopefully bring it about.
I want to see a competitive Formula. One where ingenuity and tenacity prevail over the chequebook. One where we head into a weekend not knowing who the victors will be. Most importantly, I want an F1 where no-one is at risk from not being on the grid.
Headline image: Manor Racing