Track miles lead to smiles for Manor

The car of Manor driver Roberto Merhi of Spain is removed after heading into the gravel trap during the second practice session of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang. (AP Photo/Thomas Lam)
The car of Manor driver Roberto Merhi of Spain is removed after heading into the gravel trap during the second practice session of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang. (AP Photo/Thomas Lam)
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Manor team principal John Booth was able to break into a smile after seeing five months of anguish finally come to an end.

For the first time since race day of the Russian Grand Prix on October 12, a car built by the team was back on track.

Rookie pair Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi completed 34 laps between them over the first two practice sessions at the Sepang International Circuit ahead of Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Although Merhi blotted his copybook with a spin into the gravel in FP2 that curtailed his running, Booth was unperturbed.

“Obviously, we are thrilled to be back on track again, finally seeing all the hard work and determination paying off,” he said.

“I’m very satisfied with what we have achieved today.

“On what has essentially been a shakedown and practice day - which the other teams completed a couple of months ago - we’ve achieved 34 laps of reliable running.

“That is a really good effort when one considers the problems teams typically encounter on the opening day of running a car.

“We were also encouraged by our early pace in relation to the 107 per cent rule (used in qualifying) and solid performances by both drivers on their first day in the car.

“Of course, there is a huge amount of work still to be done, both here in Malaysia and ahead into the season, but we’ll take some reward from the day nonetheless.

“Most importantly, we are back doing what we do best - racing.”

Manor, then known as Marussia, went into administration towards the end of October and were close to going out of business completely until energy entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick rescued the team in mid-February.

Despite swiftly building a car that passed crash tests and scrutineering, Manor failed to take to the track in the season-opening race in Australia due to a variety of other issues.

But progress has since been rapid, with 23-year-old Briton Stevens taking to the Sepang circuit minutes after FP1 started.

Completing 20 laps overall, Essex-born Stevens, who made his debut in one race for Caterham at the end of last season, said: “It’s really nice to be back in a Formula One car and to get down to the business of racing.

“The day ran very smoothly versus our planned programme and I’m particularly pleased my times in both sessions were inside the 107 per cent.

“Considering how little running we have done, today is a really good step, and my thanks to the team for a tremendous effort.

“We’re not under any illusions about the challenges that lie ahead though, and we have a busy night in front of us to work through the data to try to improve and set ourselves up for the best showing possible tomorrow.”