John Booth, the butcher’s son from Rotherham who was at the very core of the Marussia F1 operation for its near five years in existence, is clinging to the hope that his team of people, in some shape or form, will be on the grid at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15.
The name of Manor Grand Prix – the origins of which lie in Booth’s first team in motor-sport some 25 years ago – has been entered into the 2015 Formula 1 season.
Manor is the parent company of Marussia, which went into liquidation in November after being unable to fund its participation in the final three races of the 2014 campaign.
Marussia’s assets – including cars, transporters, servers and test lab – were sold at auction in the week before Christmas.
Manor F1 have no funding and little equipment. What they do have is nearly 200 out-of-work mechanics and staff who are chomping at the bit to reclaim their place on motor-sport’s most exclusive grid.
They also have the golden ticket of a £40m prize pot, owed to the team for their ninth-place finish in last year’s contructors’ championship, earned through a top-10 for Jules Bianchi at the Monaco Grand Prix last May.
As long as the team makes its appearance on the 2015 grid, it remains their right to claim that prize money.
The collapse of Marussia has not stopped the team designing a car for the new season nor prevented them searching for the financial clout that would keep the team alive.
Booth and other senior figures at Manor are in discussions with numerous investors about taking on the massive running costs of a Formula 1 team.
They need a pool of investors and sponsors to foot an annual budget of £65m – still one of the lowest in the sport – which would unlock that prize fund and revive Manor’s F1 dream. But befitting of Booth’s experience in Formula 1, they face a race against time.
“There’s still a slim hope, but it’s getting extremely late,” Booth told The Yorkshire Post.
“We’ve got two weeks to complete something by. So there’s still a chance.
“We are talking to investors and they are positive talks.
“What we are finding is there are a lot of people making positive noises about it but it’s actually getting across the line and taking it on that’s the big question.
“There’s a hell of a lot of hard-working, good people in this team and we are trying to keep as many staff as possible in work.
“The ironic thing is we won’t be able to get that £40m in prize money if the dream does die. But that is the attractive element for potential investors.
“We managed nearly five years without that money.”
Those five years were a constant battle for Booth and his team, but one he would not change for the world.
Having spent much of his life competing as a driver and then a team owner in the lower Formula classes – helping Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen on their journey to the top during their formative years – Booth was a surprise beneficiary of the elite tier’s more inclusive approach for 2010.
Manor Grand Prix were listed as one of four teams who took the chance to join the richest playground in sport when then FIA president Max Moseley decreed in June, 2009, that budgets would be capped at £40m a year. Suddenly, Booth’s Formula 3 team from a one-building factory on an industrial estate in the old pit village of Dinnington, Rotherham, was thrust into the motor-racing spotlight.
Signing drivers and securing a major sponsor was the first order of business.
Sir Richard Branson had been wanting to get involved in Formula 1 for some time and Booth’s operation provided the perfect vehicle for the billionaire tycoon, and so, Manor became Virgin Racing.
Next it was the drivers, the face of the team, and Virgin secured a coup with the signing of former Toyota driver Timo Glock, with Brazilian rookie Lucas di Grassi as his team-mate.
On the outside, everything was in place for their first grand prix in Bahrain in 2010, but there were still glitches to iron out, never more humbling than when the team conceded that the car they had designed was not big enough to accommodate the fuel tank.
That first year was an eye-opener for the team, one highlighted by an emotional appearance at their ‘home’ British Grand Prix but dominated by an inability to keep pace with the midfield teams.
Virgin were forever being eliminated in the first session of Saturday qualifying with the then-Lotus team and HRT – which would be a constant theme of their time in the sport.
By the end of 2010, Marussia – a sportscar manufacturer from Russia – had invested heavily into the team and by the time of the glamourous launch of their new car in London in February, 2011, it was becoming obvious that the influence in the team was shifting away from Branson.
Despite expansion at the team’s base in Dinnington and a strong PR drive at the 2011 British Grand Prix when they hired their own campsite to attract more fans to the team, Marussia as they had become known left South Yorkshire at the end of 2011 for Banbury, in the F1 heartland of Oxfordshire.
Still retaining a lot of Yorkshire employees who had begun the journey, Marussia continued to toil in 2012 and 2013, no matter the technological deal they had struck with McLaren that gave them access to wind-tunnel technology; a basic testing method used across the sport that they could never afford.
Their final year in 2014 was actually their best in terms of results. With a Ferrari engine under the chassis, Marussia got closer to the middle of the pack than they had ever been, before taking that huge step towards financial security with Bianchi’s ninth place in Monaco.
Sadly, Bianchi crashed at the Japanese GP and remains in hospital after suffering severe head injuries, putting all the concerns about money and poor performance into context.
Within weeks Marussia had been placed into administration with Booth conceding: “We’ve been fighting rising costs for five years – it just got tougher the last six months.”
Russian benefactor Andrei Cheglakov had stopped funding the team and there was no way they could continue.
Hence the collapse of the Marussia name, the liquidation and the firesale of assets.
It has been five years of very few highs and too many lows but John Booth retains the merest hope that writing the obituaries on the lifespan of his, and his team’s Formula 1 journey, are somewhat premature.