DCSIMG

Monaco has reignited Formula 1 fire in Booth

John Booth

John Booth

  • by Nick Westby
 

The irony was not lost on John Booth.

In pursuit of the modest return of a solitary point in the cut-throat world of Formula 1, the Yorkshireman and his Marussia team had spent more than £250m attempting to keep up with fastest cars on the grid.

Yet when they finally broke through at the 83rd time of asking at the recent Monaco Grand Prix, the missing ingredient had been chanced upon for less than £20,000.

“That’s peanuts in this world,” laughs Booth. “The upgrade we put in place for the Spanish Grand Prix cost us between £10,000 and £20,000.

“In the past, we might have spent a quarter-of-a-million-quid and got very little return.

“This time it was just a few grand spent on the front suspension, a few changes to the rear floor and the front wing – just tiny bits really, but it made a massive difference.”

Within two grands prix, Booth’s Marussia were celebrating their first points in Formula 1 after Frenchman Jules Bianchi drove from the back of the grid up to ninth in Monaco.

In a sport dominated by one team, Mercedes, and two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the achievement by Marussia at Formula 1’s blue riband event brought fresh cause for celebration in the paddock.

Rosberg may have won the race and the latest round in his increasingly strained relationship with Hamilton, yet the party along the picture-perfect Principality’s harbour wall was in the Marussia motor home. Not that Booth was able to bask in the glory for too long.

Bianchi’s triumph was vindication for him as much as anyone, as it was he in June, 2009 who schemed and negotiated his Manor Motorsport team in a one-unit workspace in Dinnington from the backwaters of Formula 3 into the goldfish bowl of the richest sport of all.

It was he who worked with Sir Richard Branson in the early days to give rookies Virgin Racing some credibility.

It was he who had to front up year after year to explain why the attempts by Virgin, then Marussia, at getting a reliable and fast car were coming up agonisingly, and at times, embarrassingly short.

Yet when the champagne corks were popped, Booth was nowhere to be seen.

“I actually flew back home on the Sunday so had to just restrict myself to one or two glasses on the plane,” he says.

“Even the mechanics and the staff couldn’t party that hard because they were all packing the garage and the motorhome away until 1am.

“But we did get a few bottles of champagne out when we arrived back at the factory on Monday.

“It was a job well done by 193 people.”

Booth’s over-riding emotion was relief. As the days have ticked by and thoughts have turned towards building on that Monaco result – starting in Canada this weekend – that relief has become satisfaction.

For Booth and his team have fought overwhelming odds year upon year, race upon race.

The £250m his team has spent in five seasons is what Mercedes have at their disposal on an annual basis.

Even Caterham, the team who Marussia joined the grid alongside in 2010 have an extra £30m a year to play with, which only made Marussia winning that particular race to those first points, even sweeter.

“It’s very satisfying,” continues Booth, whose team moved to a bigger factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire, in the heartland of British Formula 1 at the end of 2011, after outgrowing their Dinnington base.

“Caterham spend £30m more than us and employ 120 more people than us. Our budget is £65m and that takes some finding, let me tell you.

“Some of the teams in midfield are spending £110m, so the fight continues.

“We have always had limited resources so we try to maximise our development. We just have to be selective.

“The operation hasn’t changed size that much in the last three years. As we get more credibility, we are starting to attract higher-calibre people from other teams, so we’re growing in that respect.

“But we’ve still got less than 200 people; Mercedes have 800. That’s what you’re up against.

“So the success at Monaco has given us a new mindset and new targets, and we’re hungry to pursue those.”

Emboldened by a new sense of belonging, Booth and Marussia now have a platform on which to build. Such a position was unimaginable four months ago when pre-season testing arrived before they had finished designing a new car for a new, greener era in Formula 1.

Booth says: “At the start of the season our target was merely to get to the first test session.

“After barely managing to design a new car the next target we made was more in hope than expectation – to get to the first four races and complete them, then we’d pick up the pieces on our return to Europe.

“So to have actually managed that and have both drivers finish every race bar one, was no mean feat. Especially considering we earned a couple of 13th-place finishes.

“After the Spanish Grand Prix we stayed in Barcelona for the mid-season test and topped the time sheets with that relatively cheap upgrade.

“It was a glory run by Max (Chilton) to be honest, but it got us believing.

“And the points have come a lot quicker than I anticipated. We’re six months ahead of schedule, but now we’ve got them we’ve realigned our targets.

“If we’re honest, Montreal is not really a circuit that suits us.

“But there are one or two technical circuits that we are targeting this summer, Austria in a couple of weeks and Hungary before the summer break.”

Though he might not admit it, the result has reignited the fire within Booth.

When he first set out on the Formula 1 adventure he always thought he would have a shelf-life of three years, but now in his fifth year, he is still going.

“Of course I still enjoy it, I love it. If you can’t love this job, what job can you love?” he asks.

“I can’t say how long I’ll go on for because my job is like that of a football manager.

“I’m 60 this year. When I was 20 I wanted to retire from racing at 40. When I was 40 I wanted to retire at 50.

“Now I’m turning 60, I think I can go on until I’m 65.”

If there is a sadness, it is that his old workshop on an industrial estate in Rotherham – where his F1 dream became a reality – lies disused.

“Dinnington is all mothballed, waiting for the next challenge,” he says. “That may be a touring car or a sports car project.

“I was there last Thursday and I’m always sad when I see it.

“It’s a great space but a wasted facility, and to see it empty is a shame.”

 

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