The Manor F1 team today confirmed its intention to be on the grid at next week’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix using modified 2014 cars and Ferrari power units from the end of last season.
At a press conference held at London’s Millbank, the team introduced media to its new backers in the shape of 36-year-old Northern Irishman Stephen Fitzpatrick of the OVO energy company. He is, he told reporters, backing the venture himself and not via his company.
“We’ve all worked incredibly hard to get the car ready for Melbourne and the season ahead,” he said. “Our fans have given the team amazing support for many years and we want to restore Manor to the very best of racing in the future.
“I have a lifelong passion for Formula One and can’t wait for the season ahead, with Manor and the team.”
Fitzpatrick will be aided by the presence of former Sainsburys CEO Justin King, who will take on the role of interim team chairman, while the core Marussia duo of Graeme Lowdon and John Booth will remain in place, with Lowdon as President and Sporting Director and Booth as Team Principal.
The team says it intends to operate on an annual budget of £60-62m, with half of that amount coming from last season’s prize fund, attained thanks Jules Bianchi’s ninth-place finish in Monaco and for finishing in the top 10 two years running.
Regarding the financial landscape of F1 and the thorny issue of the division of spoils in the sport, Fitzpatrick was clear.
“We’ve chosen to be here,” he said. “We know what rules are and we will play by those rules. It would be very bad form to come in and call it unfair.”
The team’s initial challenge will be made with 2014 Marussia cars that have been modified to comply with 2015’s nose cone regulations and changed safety regulations. However, the team also revealed its intention to deliver 2015 spec cars later this year, running 2015 Ferrari engines. The cars will be crash tested later this week and the team’s freight will leave for Australia at the weekend.
In a statement Lowdon said: “I want to thank all of the teams, the FIA, Formula One Management, our suppliers and staff and of course all of the fans for the support we’ve received over the past six months. It has been a challenging period for all of us but we’ve come through it and now we just want to go racing again.
“With formidable new business leadership in Stephen Fitzpatrick and the board presence of Justin King we are now in a great place ahead of the new season. This is a fantastic and very rewarding moment for all those involved with the team.”
King added: “It’s a real pleasure for me to be involved in Manor. I know from the years I spent at Sainsbury’s that with the right people, the right values, and sheer hard work you can turn any business around.
“In Graeme and Team Principal John Booth we have all three and I’m fully confident that we can help Manor be competitive at the highest level of racing.”
The team’s plans to race 2014 cars have faced criticism due to the possible speed differential to 2015 cars, but the team insisted today that it can race without compromising the rest of the field in Melbourne, saying that the two-second deficit to current cars mentioned in some quarters is partly accounted for by 2015 spec Pirelli tyres and that the team has no fears regarding meeting the 107% qualifying rule.
Last week Manor announced Will Stevens as the first of its race drivers for the season but did not today reveal the identity of the second driver.
To get a feel for Fitzpatrick and what he is about check out this Ovo Energy video