- Oct 27, 2014
Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley has said his team’s objections to Marussia’s return to F1 were based on safety and viability, not money.
Having emerged from administration, Marussia, now Manor, are in Australia and will race with 2014 cars modified to fit 2015 regulations this weekend, but the team’s original plan was to gain permission from the F1 Strategy Group to race its unchanged 2014-spec MR03. This required unanimous approval from all of the group’s members, but was rejected by at least Force India in their most recent meeting last month.
Considering Force India has had its own financial troubles, only running its own 2015 car in the last of three pre-season tests, speculation was rife that Force India wished to stop Marussia’s return in order to get a money boost. Marussia’s £30 million prize money for finishing ninth in the Constructor’s last year would instead have been forfeited and shared amongst the other teams.
Fernley told Autosport however that he wished the team luck on their return, and insisted that the safety concerns of running an old car and the financial health of the reformed team were the reasons why they were rejected:
"We wish success to them. The money is irrelevant. Even if that money was distributed, it would be a minor sticky plaster on the problems. And it had nothing to do with the way we voted,” he said. "The first thing is Manor was essentially asking the teams to make a concession of safety.
"The regulations changes between 2014 and 2015 are entirely safety based, so what you're saying is, 'I would like to bring my car in which is technically unsafe, will you make a concession for me?'
He added that: "The second thing is the teams are saying we are supportive but we need a credible presentation that says who is behind the team and what is the sustainability of it.
"And how long does it want the concession? Is it two races, four or six? It can't be a whole season because we would all run 2014 cars in that case. Not a single piece of information was forthcoming. That's why it was turned down."
Who will drive the second Manor/Marussia alongside Briton Will Stevens remains unclear. The most recent rumours linked 2013 GP2 champion Fabio Leimer to the place after he was released from his contracted drive in the Japanese Super Formula series, but it later emerged that a backer pulling out caused the Swiss driver to vacate his seat, not an imminent F1 move.
UPDATE: Reports now suggest that Roberto Merhi, who completed practice sessions with Caterham last year, is the frontrunner to gain the seat. Although before he only gained a superlicence for Friday running, Manor are understood to have applied for a full race superlicence for the Spaniard. A permanent move towards the team would clash with his Formula Renault 3.5 commitments this year, for which he has already signed with Pons Racing.