Formula 1 - When John Booth, Manor Motorsport and Virgin Racing tried to take on the richest sport in the world
“Errr, because there isn’t,” I responded meekly. I’d only been at The Yorkshire Post 18 months so wasn’t quite confident enough to tell the gaffer where he could and shove it.
“Well there is. Find out more.”
And so began a surreal journey, one that lasted all too briefly but brought with it a new appreciation of motor sport, a yearning for a few more days living like the other half live, and a couple of grand days out at Silverstone.
Manor Motorsport were the vehicle – two vehicles to be precise and sadly not quick enough – who from seemingly nowhere had been accepted into Formula 1 as the sport entered a new decade trying to appear more for the common man.
John Booth was the face behind Manor, a softly-spoken Yorkshireman who kept his cards close to his chest. He had built the team out of his own garage two decades earlier and had taken them all way up to Formula Renault and Formula 3.
Manor’s base was a two-unit facility on an industrial estate in the old pit village of Dinnington on the outskirts of Rotherham, 100 miles from Formula 1’s heartland near Silverstone and another million miles away from the glamour of the paddock.
In F1 terms, it was the middle of nowhere. But Sir Richard Branson wanted to invest in F1 and Manor were the perfect vehicle, and so Virgin Racing were born.
Those first few weeks were spent trying to unearth as many stories about Manor and Yorkshire’s F1 heritage as possible before the season got underway in Melbourne and the reality dawned just how far off the pace Virgin were. It was about four seconds a lap if memory serves.
Still, Booth was tireless in his dedication and if at first a little wary of the local media, he quickly warmed to us when he realised how much we ourselves were getting out of the ride.
In the two years Virgin Racing were based in Dinnington, I had the good fortune to cover both those year’s British Grands Prix. Booth could not have been more hospitable, opening up Virgin’s £400,000 motorhome to wide-eyed hacks from ‘oop norf’ and even taking us through his team’s garage and out onto the pitwall an hour before the race.
Sadly, the journey did not last long. Within a year, Virgin were looking to relocate to the F1 belt between Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, Russian investment came in and the quiant Yorkshire narrative was consumed. By December 2011 the Dinnington site was mothballed and all that was left of the heritage of a team that was now called Marussia Motorsport was a little White Rose that Booth insisted remain on the car’s livery.
Booth left the team at the end of 2015, the team fell off the grid 12 months later. Money talks in F1, but for a couple of years Yorkshire had a bit of cash at the table.
Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.
Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.
And that is why I must make an urgent request of you: as advertising revenue declines, your support becomes evermore crucial to the maintenance of the journalistic standards expected of The Yorkshire Post. If you can, safely, please buy a paper or take up a subscription. We want to continue to make you proud of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper but we are going to need your help.
Postal subscription copies can be ordered by calling 0330 4030066 or by emailing [email protected]. Vouchers, to be exchanged at retail sales outlets - our newsagents need you, too - can be subscribed to by contacting subscriptions on 0330 1235950 or by visiting www.localsubsplus.co.uk where you should select The Yorkshire Post from the list of titles available.
If you want to help right now, download our tablet app from the App / Play Stores. Every contribution you make helps to provide this county with the best regional journalism in the country.
Sincerely. Thank you.