Heartbreaking End - 2016 Manor MRT05 Mercedes
After Jules Bianchi severe crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, while facing financial issues themselves at the time. Marussia (being run by Manor Motorsport) pulled out of the last three races of the season and therefore followed backmarkers rival Caterham into administration. All hopes to save them seemed lost when the team put their cars and assets on auction.
But the team was saved by the bell and exited administration on the February 15th by OVO Energy CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick who had purchased the team. With the prize money that the team came 9th in the constructor back in 2014 thanks to Jules's drive at Monaco, the team went back to Formula One although had to run a revised version of the MR03 (dubbed as the MR03B) for the 2015.
Spending all 2015 at the back, the team then received good news as with Renault acquired Lotus, the team switched from running a year old Ferrari's PU to being a Mercedes customer team. With Ferrari's employees Nicholas Tombazis and Pat Fry, things were looking great for the team as they entered 2016. With the team now renamed as Manor Racing, they were ready to start a new chapter in Formula One as being the last team that starts from 2010 to remain in the sport.
Manor started 2016 with a brand new duo as with their new partnership with Mercedes, Mercedes junior protege and reigning DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein was put in the team with Manor will have a discount for the engine from the German marque. As Manor is still struggling financially, they signed GP2 veteran Rio Haryanto for the second seat at Manor with the payment from his Indonesian sponsors and government in a deal worth around 15 million US Dollar for a year at Manor. With that Haryanto became the first ever Formula One driver from Indonesia and pretty much now a national icon. Narrowly beating out names such as Alexander Rossi (who later was signed as a reserve driver), Roberto Mehri and Will Stevens.
The car itself, the MRT05 was a big step up for Manor after running the year old MR03B for the previous season. The most notable change was the new front nose cone. The team ditched the "thumb" design and went on with a long and droop nose, similar to the 2015 McLaren Honda MP4-30 original nose. In order to gain more downforce, Manor adopted the twin keel design from the old Arrows A23. Other changes was the re-profile of the aerodynamic design of the car as it was much more tighter in the rear and new suspensions design. The car performance still lacking a lot of downforce like its predecessor but as the fastest car in term of top speed as a result in a lack of downforce.
The team had a shaky start down under for their first race as Haryanto binned into Grosjean in the Haas in the pits during practice and was demoted after qualifying. Both cars qualified last. In the eventful race, Rio retired with a gearbox issues while Pascal coasting home in 16th. Haryanto would later "surprisingly" won the "Driver Of The Day" award thanks to his fans in Indonesia but would later given to Grosjean who brought Haas their first point on their debut.
Pascal almost made it into Q2 in Bahrain and started in 16th while Haryanto was way down the order in 21st. Wehrlein had quite a race as he battled the likes of Sauber, Renault and Force India and one point was in the points contention using the long straight to his advantage. Rio meanwhile finished a lonely 17th and still won the "Driver Of The Day" award again thanks to his fans but was again later given to, you guess it, Grosjean.
After two fiasco starts at Shanghai and Sochi that put both cars down the order, Pascal and Rio finished 16th and 17th at Barcelona respectively and 14th and 15th in the tricky conditions around the streets of Monte Carlo. The German was dominating his Indonesian teammate on both qualifying and race pace.
With another two disappointing results at Montreal and Baku, there were doubts that could Manor broke into the top 10 as the team had hoped for since the start of the season. Then comes the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix...
With its long straight, the track is the perfect place for team that are struggled in terms of aerodynamic performance, just where Manor needed the most. After qualified an impressive 12th, leaving his teammate in the dust back in 19th. Pascal heading to the race knowing he had might be only one shot to get Manor their only point of the season. Before the five red lights came out, Pascal mistakenly parked in Massa's vacant grid spot, using his experience from his days in DTM, he reversed the car back to the correct grid spot just in time before Charlie Whiting started the race.
While engaging an intense battle for 11th with the Alonso, Bottas, Magnussen, Palmer and Gutierrez for 10th, he couldn't catch Bottas. But right on the last lap, Sergio Perez in the Force India lost his brakes and crashes into the barrier with one and a half laps to go. Putting the young German in the provisional 10th as he later crossed the finish line and bring Manor their first point since Jules Bianchi back in Monaco in 2014.
Right after their point at Austria, Manor endured a difficult weekend at the tricky Silverstone as both Rio and Pascal beached their car in the kitty litter after spinning during the hard rain in the British afternoon.
Opposite to Pascal, Rio is now facing a new problem as he might lost his drive due to his sponsors not being able to pay for the rest of his seasons, and with his lackluster performance. He was in deep trouble to find funds that would covered him for the rest of the season. Although Hungary was his deadline, Manor decided to extend his deadline after the German Grand Prix right before the summer break so they could find another driver in case Rio couldn't able to provide the funds.
The deadline came and went as Rio couldn't find the funds he needed, Manor had to find other options. News during the summer break was booming as different contenders set to replace the Indonesian. Rossi after his Indy 500 wins was the prime contender for the seat but he denied and continue to focus on IndyCar, Vandoorne as another option as most likely he will enter F1 in 2017 with McLaren to replace the then rumored Williams-bound Jenson Button. Just before the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa, the team announced that another Mercedes junior protege Esteban Ocon was being put in the seat with backings from none other than Mercedes. With that Manor was dubbed as the unofficial "Mercedes B-Team".
With Ocon's arrival, Pascal finally has a good challenger to match his pace. Although struggled in the first 3 races for the team, Esteban beginning to match Pascal's pace and normally challenge the German on both qualifying pace and race pace.
Although, it didn't have much impact on the performance of the car as with the lack of updates, Manor started to fall behind the clutch of other rivals. With Sauber hot on their tails, Manor had a lot to do to secured 9th in the constructor.
During the rain soaked race at Interlagos, utilizing the red flag situations, Manor didn't pit during the race and using the red flag stoppage to have free pit stops. The tactics helped them as they were in provisional points positions with 15 laps to go. But the Sauber's of Felipe Nasr was also using the same strategy and was ahead of both Manors. While Pascal struggled to keep up, Ocon drove a heroic race and almost got 10th but Alonso and Bottas passed him on the last lap, denied the team with a second point finishes. Nasr got 9th and was enough to secured 9th in the constructors for the Swiss outfit. That was the fatal blow for Manor. Although putting a respectable 12th and 13th for Ocon and Wehrlein respectively at Abu Dhabi, the team finished 10th in the constructors.
With that, the team lost out on the bonuses for finishing 10th in the constructors. During the winter break, the team headed into administration with the Brazilian Grand Prix the major cause. Unfortunately, on January 27th, 2017. The team announcing that they are folding after not finding any investors, leaving the 2017 car to waste. As a farewell, the team revealed their 2017 design as our first look to the future.
Manor, after all their hardships earned the respects of F1 fans and community with their determination. They sure will be missed all around with all of their efforts. 2016 is perhaps their most competitive season to date and hoping for a day we will see the Manor name return to the sport again. The MRT05 isn't a great machine, but with its sleek design and beautiful livery earned the hearts of F1 fans everywhere and a sweet and sour end to their Formula One adventure.