What HRT’s Demise has Taught Marussia

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It is no secret that Marussia are arguably the most financially unstable F1 team at the moment.  Just weeks before preseason testing was to begin for 2013, Marussia shockingly announced their split from the talented and experienced Timo Glock.  It was plain that this dicision was financially justified and thus the only option for Marussia in its time of monetary need.

This left the Banbury-based team in a bit of a crisis, though.  They now needed a decently talented driver that also brought boatloads of money.  I made it clear all along that I felt Vitaly Petrov was the obvious choice for the seat.  Nevertheless, the team opted to give GP2 graduate, and 2012 vice-champion, Luiz Razia the chance to be a Formula One driver.

In Jerez, the young Brazilian endured a difficult debut for the team.  The car was understandably difficult to drive and the conditions weren’t ideal for learning a brand new car, what with tires going off this way and that, but no matter. He got on with the job without complaint and all was looking rosy for the final two tests.

Barcelona came around and strangely, Luiz was nowhere to be found.  He wasn’t in the car for any of the four days and people were understandably starting to ask questions.  The questions eventually turned into rumors; mostly centered on financial circumstances that could potentially put his seat in danger.  The first Barcelona test came and went with these questions largely unanswered.

In the days leading up to the second Barcelona test, the rumors that Luiz’s seat was in danger picked up momentum until the general consensus was that it was just a matter of time before the team announced his departure.  These assumptions were proven correct when, on the first day of March, Marussia announced that Luiz Razia would be leaving the team, with one Jules Bianchi taking his spot.

It was later revealed that Luiz’s sponsors were having trouble finalizing the deal that would seal the Brazilian’s place in the team. Marussia gave the sponsors more time to get the money, but eventually, they had to just get it over with and cut their ties.  It is a really unfortunate situation for Luiz, who is undoubtedly a talented driver.  He certainly deserves a place in F1, and the loss of his seat, through no fault of his own, must have been a painful pill to swallow.

Razia has remained stoic in the face of this rather tragic news.  He fully understands the implications his sponsors would have had on Marussia had they failed to come through with their money, and thus, holds no grudges against the team.  He does, however, admit that the news of his release from the team was a shock.

This is Formula One, though; what is arguably the most cut throat sport in the business doesn’t wait around for things to eventually happen.  Fail to deliver, be it talent or money, and that’s it for you.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, surely, and it definitely won’t be the last.  Another F1 career seemingly ruined just goes to show that the sport needs to re-assess how it is running and come up with a viable solution to its money problems.

As ever, the team must move on.  In the wake of Luiz’s departure, Marussia announced the signing of the talented and highly regarded Jules Bianchi to partner Max Chilton for the new season.  While the Frenchman’s talent is undeniable and his desirability completely understandable, there are some other factors that surely went into this lucrative signing.

Jules Bianchi is widely known to be a part of the Ferrari Young Driver Academy.  He is their highest ranked protege in motor racing and justifiably , Ferrari are always keeping their eyes on him.

When Jules was in a head to head fight for the final Force India seat, which eventually went to German Adrian Sutil, a major part of his potential signing was a cheap engine deal with Ferrari for 2014.  With engine performance and low costs at a premium for the 2014 technical regulation re-vamp, a cash-strapped team like Force India would surely take advantage of an opportunity like this.

They didn’t in the end, and Jules was once again resigned to another year on the sidelines as friday driver for Force India. Another year of yearning to race, longing to get a proper chance to show everyone what he is really made of. The disappointment of losing the seat, however, did leave some doors open.

A 5 Million Euro sponsorship package, paired with vast talent, immense hunger and a lucrative relationship with Ferrari, was a very tantalizing option for the even more cash-strapped Marussia.  With an empty seat available, they took no time in waiting to sign Jules.  What this means is that, come 2014, if Marussia can stay afloat for the major chassis and engine overhaul, they may just come out fighting with a brand new Ferrari engine in the back of the car.  This would mean significant performance increases compared to the Cosworth engine of years past.  This would also mean a very important partnership with Ferrari that could very well lead to simulator and wind tunnel collaborations. As a result, their viability and sustainability would significantly increase, thus hopefully extending their stay in the sport.

No one likes to see a Formula One team fold.  If the story of HRT’s demise has taught us anything, it is that you need to take advantage of any minute opportunity you can to stay ahead.  With the signing of Jules Bianchi, Marussia may have done just that.

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