Manor Racing and their last Hurrah – Austria 2016

The Manor Racing team had been placed into administration after failing to find investment for the 2017 Formula 1 season. The news came as a great shame since the team made clear strides forward in 2016 and could have been heading into 2017 with a stronger package despite an unconfirmed driver line-up. Austria this year was perhaps the final hurrah of a plucky little team, that had endured so much yet gained even more respect…

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Manor had yet to score a point in 2016 and rocked up to Austria hoping the power related characteristics of the circuit would allow them to exploit their car’s performance. Qualifying was a mixed conditions affair, and saw the like of Nico Hulkenburg and Jenson Button star. Pascal Wehrlein also took a star turn in the Manor. He advanced from Q1 and into Q2, the first time the team had done so since Silverstone 2014. He then qualified the car a fantastic P12, a performance that lead Toto Wolff to say he was a “special” talent. Manor were euphoric and it was a stellar performance from the German rookie that set up a fantastic race for the British team. A race that could well turn out to be their final giant killing performance in Formula 1.

“It’s the first time this season he has really proved that he is a special boy.”

Toto Wolff

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A bit of luck played its part in the race, but Wehrlein was in the right place. A solid start to the race had seen him knocking on the door of the top ten.. He had great pace and was completely outshining teammate Rio Haryanto, something that had become the norm in 2016 come race day. The Indonesian was clearly nowhere near the German this weekend! However, a safety car for a tyre failure on Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari could have ruined Manor’s afternoon. The team boxed their man during the safety car period, but it put Wehrlein at the back of the pack. He had his work cut out to get anywhere near the points.

“I thought ‘the race is done’ because we were so unlucky with the safety car.”

Pascal Wehrlein

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Staggeringly, Wehrlein made his soft tyres last 48-laps and his pace didn’t falter as he hunted down Valtteri Bottas’ Williams which was running supersoft tyres that were 28-laps younger. The pair were 10th and 11th, just one more position and Wehrlein would bag his first point in Formula 1 and Manor’s first since that incredible day in Monaco 2014. Then, on the last lap, as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg duelled it out for the lead in spectacular fashion, Sergio Perez’s Force India suffered brakes failure, sending him into the barriers at turn 3. This elevated Bottas to 9th and Wehrlein to 10th. He took a crucial points scoring finish for the team, which saw them elevate themselves to 10th place in the constructors standings. $30 million was on the cards for the team come the end of the season. Sadly though, Sauber scored two points in the wet Brazilian Grand Prix and elevated themselves ahead of Manor in the standings. Then, just a few days ago, the team was plunged into administration for the second time in two years. With investment not looking to be coming fast, a miracle like the one in 2015 is needed to keep the team going into 2017 and beyond.

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Perhaps it isn’t surprising that it is Manor who are in this position. Sauber have escaped it thanks to Longbow Finance, and the race in Brazil has had a huge impact – Team owner Steven Fitzpatrick has admitted as much. The team had barely survived into 2015 as well, a year which saw them run a year old car and engine as they tried to get it together for 2016. Funds have always been tight for the squad and they are the last team from the 2010 newcomers to have survived.

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What is sad though, is that 2016 saw them take huge strides forwards. They had two solid drivers in Esteban Ocon and Wehrlein come the end of the year and the car was capable of being in Q2 quite regularly in Wehrlein’s hands.  They could actually mix it with the midfield runners and had earned the paddock’s respect once again.

To come through the death of Jules Bianchi and the plight of the winter in 2014/15, to score points again and challenge for places in the top ten shows a determination and tenacity. So if this is really the end of Manor, if this is their swansong, lets remember them for this. Remember them for being the plucky little team that never gave up and kept fighting. Monaco 2014 was something special, and Austria 2016 was their last hurrah. Perhaps greater things were to come in 2017.

“We’re starting to get more on top of things. The guys are realising anything’s possible, it’s just hard work.”

Dave Ryan

If this is the end then, goodbye Manor. Thank you for showing us that no matter how small you are, you can achieve big things. Formula 1 will miss you. Let’s just hope that determined spirit pulls you through and we will see you on the grid in Melbourne…

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