The Manor Marussia Formula One team – backed by the former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King and the energy entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick – confirmed on Wednesday that they will return to racing in Melbourne next week.
Five months after they went into administration, Marussia’s president and sporting director, Graeme Lowdon, said: “We’re ready to go racing again.”
The team that collapsed with debts of more than £60m will “not be dependent on sponsors”, according to Lowdon, following a big investment from Fitzpatrick as well as the prize money they earned last season. More money is expected to come from the drivers, even though only one, the Englishman Will Stevens, has been named so far.
The team still face huge problems, however. They will be racing with a 2014 chassis, though the car “will be 2015-compliant” according to Lowdon, meaning that it meets the safety upgrades required by the FIA, the sport’s governing body.
They hope to move on to their full 2015 car later in the season but are expected to be off the pace in the opening rounds and may even struggle to qualify for the first race on Sunday week. They are down on last season’s staff of 175 but are still recruiting, and have a budget of between £60m and £62m for the new season.
Fitzpatrick, 37, who founded the Bristol-based energy company Ovo in 2009 and will be using his own money to back the project, admitted that the situation appeared “almost hopeless” when he approached the team last year.
He said: “It was one of those situations that needed more time to understand everything, so it seemed too late, with no realistic possibility of reviving the team. It was ironic that after making it through a hard first five years, claiming ninth in last year’s championship and reaching the first rung of financial stability – if there is such a thing in Formula One – it seemed like too good a story to end there.”
Fitzpatrick added: “I looked to see if there was a way to help this team cling to life, to survival. After speaking to Graeme, who was very straightforward and we had some frank discussions, there was just one long list of challenges, top of which was to re-establish credibility with the main suppliers, like Ferrari.
“It was a very complex landscape, with a lot of legal and financial challenges, and now in 10 days’ time we will be in Melbourne with a solid business platform on which to operate.
“For me, Justin has been a huge help in navigating the landmines, especially as this is the first company I’ve bought.”
King, who will be interim chairman but in time will become a nonexecutive director, said: “I know from the years I spent at Sainsbury’s that with the right people, right values and sheer hard work, you can turn any business around. In Graeme and John we have all three and I’m fully confident we can help Manor be competitive at the highest level of racing.”
The team, in essence, will still be run by Lowdon and the team principal, John Booth, as it has been since they came into F1 as Virgin in 2010.
Lowdon, in particular, has been in frantic negotiation to save the team since the close of last season. “The last few months have been a bit of a rollercoaster,” he said. “It’s important to say in getting back to racing we’ve had a huge amount of support from the FIA, FOM [Formula One Management], Bernie [Ecclestone], our suppliers, partners and staff.”
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