No one expected the Marussia Formula One team to make it on to the grid this year, yet here we are in March, watching the team name Will Stevens as its first driver and going full steam ahead on its plans to make it to the Australian Grand Prix. Ovo Energy founder Stephen Fitzpatrick is largely the reason why.
BBC Sport reports that Fitzpatrick used his personal money (not Ovo Energy's) to fund the rescue of the Marussia team, which went into administration (Britain's form of bankruptcy protection) before the end of the 2014 season.
What kind of lunatic funds a down-on-their-luck F1 team? The founder and chief executive of an energy firm. Stephen Fitzpatrick heads up Ovo Energy, and as a lifelong F1 fan, he has been looking for a way to get involved in the sport. He was originally looking at Formula E, but saw a greater opportunity when Marussia went into administration.
It's a good thing he's a fan of the sport. Financially, funding a race team is akin to putting your money though a cheese grater, or perhaps one of those fancy-schmancy Salad Shooters if you've got one of the more well-funded teams. It's a labor of love in every conceivable way.
Marussia, of course, was a better buy than fellow struggling team Caterham because they scored points at Monaco last year, netting them more of F1's commercial rights income. (Per Autosport, Caterham is absent from the most recent release of this year's F1 World Championship entry list.)
Autoweek reports that the team is now going by "Manor Marussia F1," likely to avoid any complications from dropping "Marussia" from their title.
Fitzpatrick reportedly started talking with Marussia four months ago, right after the team went into administration. He arranged deals with Marussia's major creditors, McLaren and Ferrari, so that the team could still receive their support. A deal was also struck with Ferrari to secure engines for the 2015 season.
According to Autoweek, former Marussia Motors boss Andrey Cheglakov is supposedly personally on the hook for the team's outstanding debt from last year, as he made guarantees to Ferrari (that weren't kept) when things got tight for the team. That debt was not passed on to the new Manor Marussia team.
Autoweek estimates that Fitzpatrick has a total of $60 million in the Manor Marussia team. There are other investors in the team, however, Fitzpatrick reportedly has the biggest contribution.
Finally, the team made quick work of modifying last year's design to meet the new safety regulations, which require the front of the chassis to be 5 cm lower above the driver's feet than it was in the 2014 spec. A new nose had to be constructed as well, and the whole car had to pass crash tests before it was allowed to compete.
The team initially asked to use the 2014 car at the start of the season to save costs, which was promptly vetoed by the F1 Strategy Group. Manor Marussia ain't care. They're going to make it on the 2015 grid, anyway, come hell or high water.
According to the BBC, that modified Manor Marussia car for 2015 is now complete and ready to be crash tested on Tuesday. The F1 teams' freight for the first race of the season at Melbourne leaves on March 6.
The team will reportedly continue to use the 2014 Ferrari power units to save costs at the beginning of the season, at a price of $1.5 million per race. After the first ten races, however, Autoweek reports that Ferrari would prefer Manor Marussia to start using the new 2015 units. By then, the supply of the old power units will be depleted.
"It's very exciting to see everything coming together at Manor after the tremendous effort that has gone into saving the team," driver Will Stevens told Autoweek. "It would not have been possible without the incredible support we have received from all the suppliers and from within the sport, but most of all the fantastic team of people at Manor who are working around the clock to ensure we are ready for Melbourne."
Stevens is another holdover from the original Marussia team. He was the reserve driver for Marussia before getting his race debut in the resurrected Caterham car at Abu Dhabi last year.
Will the new team find any success? We hope so, just for numbers' sake. Formula One needs new blood, and needs that new blood to be successful and competitive. Manor Marussia won't be using a bunch of old equipment, that's for certain. However, easing into the season and gradually bringing their car into the current spec seems like a prudent move with such a tight budget.
Manor Marussia's attitude so far has been "we're coming back anyway, regardless of what you think." I want to fist-bump this team for their perseverance.
Photo credits: Getty Images