Battling to survive as Yorkshire gets back on the grid

Mercedes Lewis Hamilton celebrates becoming World Champion after victory in the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit

Mercedes Lewis Hamilton celebrates becoming World Champion after victory in the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit

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Manor Marussia’s one-building headquarters on an industrial estate in the old pit village of Dinnington, South Yorkshire, is barely the size of a five-bedroomed detached house.

The motorhome that Red Bull entertain sponsors and clients in at every paddock during Formula 1’s 20-leg journey across the globe, is considerably bigger.

Will Stevens will race for Manor Marussia.

Will Stevens will race for Manor Marussia.

Yet despite such a gulf in budgets and egos, the little team from Yorkshire are back in Formula 1, fighting and scrapping for every marginal gain just as they did in the first five years of their initial journey into the elite.

Team principal John Booth has worked long and hard over the winter months to help resuscitate his F1 dream but do not expect them to make many inroads.

Manor arrive at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne a long way behind the rest of the grid, and although they have unlocked the £26m of prize money they earned in 2014, a winter in which they went out of business has erased much of the hard work of the past few years.

Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi stepped in to their cars on a track for the first time in practice yesterday, some 12 days of testing behind the rest of the teams.

Manor’s story this year will unravel with only passing intrigue, a novelty tale of the try-harders doing their best.

The big interest as ever will be at the front of the grid, with a number of questions dominating the landscape as the 2015 season dawns.

Can Mercedes continue their domination? Is Lewis Hamilton still the man to beat? Is there anyone to challenge the Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg?

Will McLaren rediscover the winning habit with Honda, after reuniting some two decades on from a dominant era?

Is Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen, at 17, too young for the sport, when he is not even legally allowed to drive in Holland, the country he represents?

Hamilton’s is the storyline that will garner most interest.

Last year he was supreme in winning a second world title, rising to the occasion just as Rosberg turned up the heat.

The Briton won 11 grands prix, an accomplishment bettered by only two men in F1 history –Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013 – who won 13.

Without doubt, Hamilton had beneath him the best car of his career as Mercedes built what he described as “a monster”.

But that is in the past. Technology has moved on, rivals have attempted to close the gap, and as Hamilton concedes: “it feels like everything has been reset”.

“I don’t sit here feeling like the champion I was last year,” he said. “I feel exactly the same now this year as I did at the beginning of last year.

“You have to appreciate last year was exceptional and it will be hard to beat, but of course, the objective will obviously be to surpass or at least equal it.

“Just because I’m champion, I don’t feel any more relaxed than I was last year, nor do I need a title to feel who I am or to feel more settled.

“Of course, when you are working towards something you want to be successful because the more successful you are the better it feels.

“Last year was my best, the best it could be, so it will be very difficult for it to be any better than that.”

As well as his continuing rivalry with Rosberg, another intriguing sub-plot this year will be how Vettel adapts to his new surroundings at Ferrari.

Like Fernando Alonso before him, his move to the Prancing Horse is about attempting to elevate the famous marque back to the top of the order, just as Schumacher managed at the turn of the millennium.

Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian, takes his place as the lead driver at Red Bull, who have proven in the past that if they get their car right, they can blow any team away.

Alonso is absent from the opening grand prix around Albert Park because of the concussion injuries he sustained in a mysterious crash in testing, but his acclimatisation back at McLaren after a fractious season at the Woking team back in 2008, will be fascinating to see.

He partners Jenson Button, back for one more year in the spotlight, and who would begrudge such a gentleman of the grid that protracted lap of honour?

Away from the racing, the sport itself has issues to address, namely their declining audience figures and spiralling costs.

Formula 1 lost 50 million global viewers last year, down from 425m in 2013 to 375m.

Free-to-air television can no longer pay the sums of money demanded by Bernie Ecclestone, the 84-year-old F1 chief, who recently changed his business model and switched to pay-TV companies who can afford the considerable rights fees.

In the pit lane, it is a constant battle to stay alive, one Booth’s team lost last year. But they are back for more, back for another shot at Formula 1’s survival of the fittest.

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