JUSTIN KING’S planned takeover of Marussia will likely stand or fall on a vote to be taken by the Formula 1 Strategy Group today.
The former J Sainsbury chief executive, who resigned from the position after 10 years in the post last July, has emerged as the man trying to save the marque which began life as John Booth’s Manor team based in Dinnington, South Yorkshire, from oblivion.
Marussia fell into administration towards the end of last season with owner Andrey Cheglakov no longer prepared to dip into his fortune to keep the team running around at the back of the grid, resulting in Marussia missing the final three grands prix.
Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal Booth, the initial founders, have refused to let the team die and have been in negotiations with various parties in a bid to keep the team on the grid this season.
King, who was once linked as replacement as F1 CEO for Bernie Ecclestone, is close to completing a deal.
Marussia, renamed as Manor Grand Prix on the FIA entry list for 2015 when it was recently published, is due to emerge from administration on February 19
by entering into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), a key step towards reclaiming their place on the grid.
The 40 million US dollars (£26.2m) the team is scheduled to receive in prize money for back-to-back top-10 finishes in the constructors’ championship has been instrumental in negotiations.
The money, to be handed out only if the team does compete this year, will help to pay off creditors, notably engine supplier Ferrari.
There is a fly in the ointment, however, as it is understood while the money could be a saving grace, it may also be the final nail in their coffin.
Last year three of the other marques in Lotus, Force India and Sauber all lobbied Ecclestone and primary shareholder in private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for a greater share of the prize pot, which was not forthcoming.
All three remain in financial difficulties, with Sauber’s car bereft of sponsors and Lotus missing the first day of this week’s pre-season test in Jerez due to the late build of the car, whilst they have only recently paid the FIA their entry fee for this year.
Force India appear to be the team most in trouble as they failed to show in Jerez, and are unlikely to run their new car until the final test in Barcelona later this month due to problems with suppliers.
The belief is if Marussia do not return this year then the money they would have claimed will be split among those three teams, just under £9m each.
Force India have a seat on the Strategy Group which also comprises the five top teams in Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Williams, along with the FIA and Ecclestone.
The Group will vote today on whether Manor can take part this year with last season’s car before building up their resources to make a more credible challenge in 2016.
Each team has one vote, while the FIA and Ecclestone have six apiece and a simple majority is needed to either pass or block the motion, with the early indication being the latter will arise.
If passed, then the motion will next go before a meeting of the F1 Commission scheduled for next week, with total unanimity required.
Without the vital prize money it is understood King is unwilling to wait a year and effectively build the team up from scratch for 2016.
For now, administrators FRP Advisory are at least making positive noises.
Geoff Rowley, joint administrator and partner at the firm said: “Since the appointment of administrators negotiations have taken place with a number of parties to try and secure a long-term solution for the team.
“We can confirm that negotiations continue towards a longer term viable solution for the business and participation of a team in the 2015 season.
“It is envisaged that, prior to the commencement of the first race of the 2015 season, investment into the business will be made upon the company exiting from administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement, which is planned for 19 February 2015.
“A CVA is a restructuring process agreed with the company’s creditors which allows for a turnaround of the business and the creation of a longer term viable solution for the team.
“Given the confidential nature of the negotiations under way we are unable to provide further details.
“The joint administrators would like, on behalf of Marussia F1 Team, to thank all involved with the team for their support during this process.”