Formula 1’s 2016 season has finally kicked into life with the first cars on track, collective testing for the newly designed cars and the new driver combinations.
The huge extravagances of the past involved in the launch of the cars has largely been replaced by a more low key approach, with some teams opting for web-based only events.
The actual launch of a Formula 1 car shows only the aerodynamics and general look, not the final design of the race car.
Manor F1 team Racing Director Dave Ryan.Photo / Supplied
The testing at Barcelona is over two four-day periods with the first period completed last Thursday and the next period to start this coming week, so only towards the end of the week will we get a real idea of the fastest combinations to start the 2016 season at Melbourne on March 18.
Current pre-season favourites for the front of the grid are Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and perhaps Williams.
McLaren desperately needs to be competitive and many of the other teams will be scrapping for the mid field positions.
The most intriguing battle for me will be that of Manor Racing Team.
This time last year Manor Marussia, as they were then, were not even sure of competing in the 2015 F1 season and although, due to a herculean effort by the team and its then management, the cars did make it to Melbourne. Sadly they were in no position to actually race.
Fast forward and this season Manor Racing Team is in a better position to complete testing and get on with the season as, hopefully, a force to be reckoned with.
The business dealings and personnel problems over the 2015 season are complicated and shrouded in privacy but essentially John Fitzpatrick, a race fan and successful young businessman, rescued the team by injecting £30 million into the organisation. That money managed to keep the team afloat during the season enough for them to collect the money for 10th position in the F1 World Championship for Constructors, an amount approaching another £30m.
Late last year the principals of the team departed and Fitzpatrick engaged former McLaren sporting director Dave Ryan to be racing director.
Ryan is an ex-pat Kiwi with 35 years of experience in F1 with McLaren.
As a teenager he left Auckland to “do the OE” and continue driving in speedway cars, as he had done at Western Springs, and subsequently joined McLaren as a mechanic working on the likes of James Hunt’s 1976 championship winning car.
Manor Racing Team’s Banbury base in the UK. Picture/ Bob McMurray.
He progressed through the ranks as McLaren prospered.
Despite living in the UK for much of that time, Ryan still has a strong Kiwi accent and typical Kiwi practical approach to any situation, and was credited with making the McLaren team much of what it was by the time he left in 2009.
I visited Manor Racing Team’s Banbury base this Christmas time and toured the factory with Ryan.
Compared with other teams the space is minimal and devoid of much that a large Formula 1 team needs simply to exist.
The chassis manufacture is outsourced and that does away with a huge amount of equipment, but still the task for Ryan is immense.
Since his arrival, the team has attracted many well-known, experienced, highly skilled and talented individuals.
A designer from Ferrari, a chief mechanic formerly at McLaren and Williams, one of the industry’s top engineers to look after car development — the list goes on.
Many of these people called Ryan and offered their services because they were excited about a new project, almost a “start up” in F1 terms, and because they knew the calibre of Ryan and the people he was attracting to the team.
After almost three months in the job, Ryan says it’s been a busy time. “But it has really served to underline everything I thought when I first agreed to join the team — a great little operation, with huge potential and the vision and ambition to make a big step forward,” he said.
“There was a lot to do to prepare for this season. The team did a laudable job last year given its circumstances over the previous winter. This year, with the package we have, we need to be every inch the professional racing outfit. That’s where I’ve been focusing my attentions.”
It seems the Manor Racing star will continue to rise as, for this coming season, the team will have the use of the Mercedes F1 engine and just recently Mercedes protege Pascal Wehrlein was signed to be one of their drivers.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff also recently hinted that Manor may well become a quasi “Junior Team” for that company.
Manor also has a technical partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering supplying the transmission and rear suspension. However, there is always a “but”.
The “but” here is that in 2016, with the addition of the heavily influenced Haas F1 Team to the grid, there will be 11 teams vying for the top 10 places and only those top 10 constructors get a share of the F1 profit distribution model, so it is vital Manor beat at least one team to help ensure the funds for 2017.
At this stage, and with two rookie drivers (Indonesian Rio Haryanto being the second), that will not be an easy task.
The obvious aim is to beat fellow newcomer Haas but also to have the Renault (nee Lotus) team in their sights. The seemingly perennial strugglers Sauber must be on the attack horizon.
So, I have a new favourite team to follow this coming season — to join McLaren that is — and I will follow every move Ryan and the Manor Racing Team make.
If the performance of McLaren-Honda 2015 is repeated in 2016, even they could come into the sight lines of Fitzpatrick and Ryan.