Two of Formula One’s smallest teams – Caterham and Marussia are both set to miss the United States and Brazilian Grand Prix over the coming weeks. For two teams who seemingly had got onto terms with Formula One in their fifth season it seems a bit strange that these teams are in fact in severe financial difficulty, albeit arguably for different reasons. This will leave just 18 cars at Austin and Interlagos, the lowest seen since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix. With resigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel likely to skip qualifying as well, just 17 cars look set to take part in the first qualifying session – the same number that took part in the second qualifying session at Caterham and Marussia’s debut back in 2010.
Caterham always seemed to be the top of the ‘new teams’ when it was known as Lotus. Heikki Kovalainen did a fantastic job in usually being the first of the runners to the flag and in bringing the car home. The team then changed their name to Caterham for 2012 and whilst no points came, the team edged ever closer to the midfield. After 2012 however the problems began to arise. It was clear that team boss and team owner Tony Fernandes was looking to sell the team to focus on Caterham cars and constantly throwing money at Queens Park Rangers Football Club. No buyer was found for 2013 and the team finished bottom of the Constructors’ Championship after some impressive results by Marussia and more notably Jules Bianchi.
Bringing in the experienced Kamui Kobayashi showed a little bit of improvement. Whilst he delivered some strong results in a car which is clearly the worst on the grid in virtually every area, a lack of funding has hindered that. The team has thrown former DTM driver Roberto Merhi and multiple Le Mans winner André Lotterer in his car but that has simply reversed Kobayashi’s good form from the start of the year, and he is clearly now struggling. Rookie Marcus Ericsson had a very tricky start to his career, but some impressive runs at Monaco, Singapore and Suzuka has at least given some sort of justification as to why Caterham have him on board. In the middle of the season, Fernandes sold the team to Swiss and Middle Eastern investors.
The first sign that there was serious trouble was when the Caterham GP2 squad was sold to Status Grand Prix as well as his Moto 2 team. Following this, Kobayashi deemed his car ‘unsafe’ at the Russian Grand Prix due to the team not having enough spare parts for his car. We are also now in the middle of a public spat between Fernandes and these new investors, with a lot of finger pointing going on between the two. Caterham F1 has since gone into administration, leaving hundreds of people without work if a buyer is not found quickly.
We accepted offer. But we never received a cent from engvest. We saw our assets we owned being taken. Had to stop.
— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) October 26, 2014
To be honest, Marussia was one team I did not expect to be in this situation. I would have put Lotus and Sauber as teams in a worse state.
Marussia began their life as Manor back in 2009, which swiftly became Virgin for 2010 and Marussia as we know it in 2012. For their first three seasons the team were significantly off the pace of Lotus/Caterham and also significantly more unreliable. The change of ownership so swiftly into their young life so many times would not have helped matters also.
For 2013, Marussia began to find some form. A strong line-up of Ferrari young driver Jules Bianchi and GP2 frontrunner Max Chilton brought in Ferrari engines, investment, speed and reliability. The team managed to beat Caterham for the first time and things were looking pretty good. The midfield seemed a long way away still however.
2014 was when things changed. Despite a shaky start, Bianchi brilliantly picked up his first points at the Monaco Grand Prix. Both cars have also troubled the Saubers and Lotuses on occasions too. The team currently lie ninth in the championship with this, worth a decent amount of money at the end of the day. Marussia lost their star Bianchi at the Japanese Grand Prix following a very nasty collision with a recovery vehicle. His loss was felt through the paddock and the team fielded just one car at Sochi. Also absent from the paddock was the Marussia GP3 team, albeit that was due to commercial reasons. This was when the problems became apparent. Like Caterham, Marussia will miss the United States and Brazilian Grand Prix and there are rumours that they could slip into administration too.
EDIT: Since this article was published, it was announced that Marussia has followed Caterham into administration.
Who is to blame?
A lot of people have pointed the finger at Bernie Ecclestone for this whole saga. I do not feel that he is the only person to blame. The FIA and the bigger teams all have had a significant role in the demise of HRT and now possibly both Caterham and Marussia. When Hispania, Manor and US F1 were granted entry into the 2010 season, they were ensured that the cost of participating in Formula One would be slashed from the approximate $200 million that the top teams were spending at the time down to around $40 million. This budget reduction never came, and in fact, Formula One currently costs even more. Mercedes have spent over $320 million on this season and teams like Caterham and Marussia simply cannot afford to spend that kind of money. The way in which the money is distributed is also arguably a bit unfair, with the team in last place receiving absolutely nothing. It is the fault of teams like Ferrari and McLaren as well as FOM and the FIA for not finding a sensible solution to the problem. It was why we also saw the demise of Toyota, BMW and Honda within the space of 12 months too.
The small teams are very important to Formula One. Teams like Force India (formally Jordan), Sauber, Lotus (formally Toleman) and so on all had to start somewhere, and they all started from the bottom and worked their way up through time. This leaves a situation where three car teams are seriously being considered for 2015, and that would seriously mess up teams like the three mentioned above as well as Williams, as they simply cannot afford to run three cars. So should these teams drop out, then what? Four car teams? Five car teams? Perhaps that is a bit too much; it seems to be in IndyCar.
It might ‘only’ be Caterham and Marussia, but this leaves Formula One in the same state it was in at the end of 2009 with just nine teams. A sensible fix needs to be found, and pretty quickly.
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