The Marussia F1 team has been waiting a long time, but this weekend in India it was announced that they have finally signed a bilateral commercial agreement with Bernie Ecclestone which brings them into line with the other ten teams in F1.
The deal means that all the teams in F1 are now tied in until 2020, while a bilateral agreement is also in place between Ecclestone’s company and the FIA.
Bearing in mind that the leading teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull signed commercial agreements with Ecclestone in March 2012, it has taken a long time for Marussia to arrive at this point.
The 82 year old has said on many occasions that he would prefer just 10 teams in F1 for transport and logistical reasons, as well as dividing the prize money pot. Prize money is only paid down to 10th place on the grid. Marussia currently lies 10th, ahead of Caterham.
Sporting director Graeme Lowden said that while the deal is clearly a boost to the team’s coffers, the most valuable aspect is the way the team is now perceived from the outside. Potential sponsors will have been deterred by due diligence revealing that Marussia had no contract to participate in F1 and the doubt always hung over the team about its long term viability. It will take some time for investor confidence to return in the team after so long in the cold, but at least they can start to work from here.
In fact Marussia is in the fortunate position of having a wealthy shareholder, Russian billionaire scientist Andrei Cheglikov, who bankrolls the operation and who has stayed patient through the last 18 months as it appeared that F1 was trying to cold shoulder his team with no commercial deal.
The presence of a wealthy shareholder is something that other teams on the grid, like Williams and Sauber, lack and that makes life tricky for them. Sauber once had BMW, but they withdrew in 2009 leaving Peter Sauber to pick up the pieces.
Williams has been courting the Qataris and Sauber the wealthy Mexican Carlos Slim, but neither has yet weighed in with heavy investment.
The next couple of years will be very interesting as the F1 Strategy Group has now started meeting. Led by the FIA, Ecclestone and the top teams, they will set a course for the F1 of the future. The small and medium sized teams are not part of this process and their voice in the development of the sport has been greatly diluted as a result.
Many believe that the secret agenda is for the non-Strategy Group teams to be pushed into running customer cars, bought from the top teams.
Marussia is well set up to be a Ferrari customer car team, running a Ferrari powertrain and back end next year, as well as Ferrari development driver Jules Bianchi.
It is ironic, given that Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo was so scathing about the new teams (Caterham Virgin/Marussia and HRT) “limping into F1” back in 2010.