01/05/15 Updates shown in red below.
Pay drivers keep Sauber from complete collapse in 2015
Struggling teams still face uncertain future
- Sainz' father says surname no ticket to F1
- Force India sets January 21 launch date
- Rookie Verstappen plays down high expectations
- When Lotus didn't pay its staff, all the good people left
- Marussia owes suppliers $48.1 million
- Key 2015 F1 dates
- Button's McLaren engineer switches to Williams
- Wolff to test Williams in Barcelona New
Struggling teams still face uncertain future
(GMM) Less than a month before official winter testing begins, the future of the ailing backmarkers Marussia and Caterham remains unclear.
Marussia's administrators have auctioned team equipment, and the factory at Banbury could even be sold to the new American team for 2016, Haas.
That is to pay back a long list of creditors, with Forbes journalist Christian Sylt saying even staff are still owed more than $72,000 in pay.
But administrator Geoff Rowley insists there "continues to be dialogue with a number of parties who are considering making an investment into the company".
To date, however, Rowley admitted that "no satisfactory offer or strategy has been offered to presently allow racing to continue". Sylt concluded that it is "unlikely" Marussia's redundant staff will be returning to work.
Meanwhile, Caterham's administrators have in the past days and weeks sounded more bullish about the future of the Leafield based team.
But the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat reports that a significant percentage of the team staff have in fact already moved on, for example to jobs at Williams and Lotus, who are also both based in Oxfordshire.
Finally, Switzerland's Blick reports that Sauber is also fighting for survival, helped by the three drivers for 2015 who are bringing a collective $50 million to Hinwil for 2015.
Paying racers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are joined by the new reserve and Ferrari junior Raffaele Marciello, who correspondent Roger Benoit said is accompanying a $10 million subsidy for Sauber's 2015 engine deal.
Benoit wrote: "Actually, Ferrari had also planned to promote Jules Bianchi from Marussia to Sauber for 2015."
|Carlos Sainz, Jr.|
Sainz's father says surname no ticket to F1
(GMM) Carlos Sainz insists his famous name alone did not power his 20-year-old son all the way to formula one.
Carlos Sainz Jr, the new reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion, will make his debut for Toro Rosso in 2015, having emerged as the cream of Red Bull's famous driver development program.
Nonetheless, a famous surname was also a help, Sainz's father and namesake, the Spanish rallying legend, admitted to the sports daily Marca.
"There have been times when the surname has benefited him," he admitted ahead of the famous Dakar rally, in which Sainz snr will race a Red Bull-sponsored Peugeot.
"But at the end, you don't get to formula one because of a surname, even less on a team such as the Red Bull junior team."
Sainz, 52, said his son comes to F1 at a "very young" age, but nonetheless "prepared and having won one of the preceding championships to formula one with very good results".
"I sincerely believe that he arrives ready to do a good job," he insisted. "He has an exceptional talent, more than people think, and I hope he can prove it."
Sainz said he will be merely a "spectator" of F1 in 2015, admitting he cannot given his son much advice because "he knows more than I do!"
Force India sets January 21 launch date
(GMM) Force India has set a firm date for the launch of its 2015 car, the Mercedes-powered VJM08.
After finishing the 2014 season a career-high sixth in the constructors' championship, the Silverstone based team renewed with its major backer America Movil.
It means the Sergio Perez-linked Telmex, Telcel and Claro branding will also appear on the 2015 car, just as they also will at Ferrari, where Mexican Esteban Gutierrez has become the fabled Maranello team's new reserve driver.
Force India will reportedly herald its continuing Mexican link by launching the new car at the Soumaya museum in Mexico City on January 21.
"I wish to thank Telmex, Telcel and Claro for their support in making this event possible," said team boss Vijay Mallya.
Rookie Verstappen plays down high expectations
(GMM) Max Verstappen has moved to play down expectations ahead of his record-making formula one debut in 2015.
With the FIA set to clamp down on very young drivers from 2016, the Dutchman's record of racing in Melbourne at the tender age of 17 could stand for some time.
Verstappen, whose former F1-racing father Jos is just 42 years old, comes to the grid not only amid controversy but also high expectations, having leapt straight from karts to F1 in the space of less than a year.
"Occasionally I hear or read things that make it seem as though miracles are expected," Max told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. "But I'm a driver, not a magician.
"I don't think victories or podiums next year are really likely," he insisted.
Father Jos, who was once the younger teammate to the great Michael Schumacher, is also concerned that expectations of his son's debut are running wild.
"Next season in the races he will continue to collect miles and gain experience," he said. "And undoubtedly once in a while he will park the car in the gravel.
"I especially hope that the people support him and do not suddenly use his young age against him," Verstappen snr added.
"Many think that Max is the new world champion, but that's nonsense. Hopefully (he will be) over three years."
Max explained that scoring debut points in 2015 is a "realistic goal".
"If I managed to finish in positions 8 through 10, it would mean that I am coping well with the task. But in order to rise above sixth place would need luck," said Verstappen.
"Of course, you might get lucky in the rain or in the event of many drivers retiring, but I do not expect us to fight with Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.
"The budgets of those teams are much higher than ours, even if fortunately the numbers from the wind tunnel show that our car will be good," the new Toro Rosso driver added.
|After scoring victories in both 2012 and 2013, 2014 was a woeful year for Lotus.|
When Lotus didn't pay its staff, all the good people left
The loss of key technical staff in 2013 [when they did not pay them] was the main reason why Lotus's '14 Formula 1 campaign was so bad, trackside operations chief Alan Permane told Autosport.
[Driver Kimi Raikkonen left two races before the season was over with a lot of money owed him.] Technical director James Allison left Lotus for Ferrari before last season, with head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer following him and other staff also departing.
Lotus went from being a grand prix winner in 2013 to struggling to get out of Q1 at times last year, scoring only three times and plunging from fourth to eighth in the constructors' championship.
"We had a fairly torrid winter last winter and we lost quite a lot of people, and the aero department was heavily restructured," Permane told AUTOSPORT.
"With all respect to [new technical director] Nick [Chester], James was an absolute team leader.
"Losing James was a big hit. We lost Dirk, our head of aerodynamics. We lost our head of CFD.
"These are all good people. No one can't be replaced, but it takes time when you get replacements in for them to start gelling.
"The previous aero department had worked together for five or six years and were churning out really good stuff. To stop that abruptly upsets things.
"But we have a great wind tunnel and a great base at Enstone. There's no reason why we won't get back on the right path again."
"There are three or four things that make cars quick, and one of them is aero – and it's not strong enough [on the 2014 car], it really isn't," he said.
"But we're pretty sure we know where it isn't, and it wasn't something that could be changed on that car.
"We have changed it on next year's  car and we can already see very significant gains in the wind tunnel. So we're very confident.
"While we're not going to say we're going to go out and beat Mercedes and Red Bull – those teams that are employing almost double the people we're employing – we're very confident that we'll be regularly back into Q3 and fighting for podiums again." Autosport
Marussia owes suppliers $48.1 million
The Marussia Formula One team lost $45,000 in a failed attempt to return for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November after missing the two previous races according to recently-released company documents.
In October Forbes revealed that Marussia was heading towards administration which is the British equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Early the following month the team's operating company Manor Grand Prix Racing (MGPR) ceased trading and missed the Grands Prix in the United States and Brazil. However, by the time preparations began for the F1 finale in Abu Dhabi at the end of November hopes had been raised that Marussia may return to the grid.
The optimism was fuelled by sightings of Ferrari personnel dressed in Marussia shirts at the track in the run up to the race. Marussia's cars used Ferrari's engines and the Italian marque provided a group of personnel, wearing team colors, to work on them at every race. The reports of the Marussia-clad staff suggested that Ferrari was preparing for the team's arrival but it was not to be.
Marussia's race team was reportedly on its way to the airport for the flight to Abu Dhabi when it was forced to turn back. It fuelled rumors that F1's chief executive Bernie Ecclestone had given the team the red light. However, like so many stories in F1, it was nothing but a conspiracy theory.
Documents from Marussia's administrators FRP Advisory, dated 18 December, reveal that, in fact, the brakes were put on the team's revival when a key investor withdrew support. It didn't just prevent the team from racing in Abu Dhabi but also left it with a $45,000 bill.
"On Tuesday 18 November 2014, I received a commitment by a prospective investor to inject sufficient cash into MGPR to enable the team to race in Abu Dhabi," says Geoff Rowley, one of the joint administrators at FRP. "To enable this to happen, the race team had to be reformed and arrangements made to travel to the race. A significant amount of work was carried out over a 24 hour period by both MGPR's staff and the joint administrators; however, ultimately the prospective investors were not able to provide sufficient funds. The prospective investor agreed to pay the costs of the staff (and ancillary costs) in this period, although at the date of this report, these total Ã‚Â£29,443 [$45,129] and remain unpaid."
It puts even more pressure on the amount available for Marussia's creditors who are on track to lose almost all their money.
Last week British newspaper the Daily Telegraph revealed that Marussia owes $48.1 million to more than 200 unsecured trade creditors. Payment of their bills was not secured on any of the team's assets meaning that the creditors are not guaranteed a share of the proceeds if the assets are sold. It puts the unsecured debts lower down the priority list than the few secured creditors including British bank Lloyds which is owed $20.2 million.
Marussia was set up in 2010 with funding from the bank's private equity division Lloyds Development Capital (LDC) which became its majority shareholder. However, the team's performance on track spluttered and it has only managed to score two points over the past four years with both won at last year's Monaco Grand Prix.
In April 2013 the Telegraph revealed that LDC had sold its shares to Marussia, the Russian sports car manufacturer which the team is named after. However, that wasn't the end of the story as six months later the Telegraph also broke the news that LDC had given the team a loan before selling its stake. The $20.2 million owed to LDC comprises the loan and interest and it looks like it will largely need to be written off.
Although the loan is secured on all of the team's assets, Mr. Rowley says he has been advised that "on a close down break-up basis, realizations of assets would be in the region of Â£1.5 million [$2.3 million]." In addition, the team has $946,652 of cash in the bank giving a total of just $2.4 million available to the secured creditors. It means that LDC is likely to lose around $17.8 million of the loan it gave to Marussia and Mr. Rowley confirms that "the secured creditors will suffer a significant shortfall." The unsecured creditors are even worse off.
As the sale of the team's assets will not raise enough to pay off all of the secured creditors there will not be any money left to settle the unsecured debts. There is "insufficient property to enable a distribution to be made to unsecured creditors," says Mr. Rowley. The only payment they are entitled to is a basic sum of $627,117 which comes to just over 1 Cent in the Dollar when distributed amongst the $48.1 million of trade creditors. It will leave companies of all sizes out of pocket.
They show that Ferrari is owed the most as it is due $25.4 million for supplying engines to Marussia. Next up is $10.9 million due to British engineering firm McLaren for providing wind-tunnel and simulator services.
Other high profile names on the list include computer company Dell, which is owed $613,100, delivery service DHL, which is due $73,572 and even F1's governing body the FIA Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).
The scale of the impact to the industry was laid bare in last week's report in the Telegraph and it caught the sport by surprise. Three days later The Times' motor racing correspondent Kevin Eason reported the numbers and concluded that Marussia had been "operating on a wing and prayer."
Those who will be hit hardest are not the big names but the majority of Marussia's creditors as they are small and medium-sized businesses. They supply key services to F1 such as British catering firm Freeman's Hospitality, which is owed $1 million, whilst Italian seat belt manufacturer Sabelt is due $7,802.
Although $72,714 is owed to former Marussia staff in arrears and holiday pay, Mr. Rowley says he expects they will be paid in full. Nevertheless, this is little consolation given that most of the 170-strong workforce were made redundant in November. It seems unlikely that they will be returning to their former roles.
If the team had raced in Abu Dhabi it would have made it more attractive to sell as a going concern. However, Mr. Rowley says that "with the withdrawal of the potential investor, I reverted to the asset sale strategy." In mid-December FRP sold nearly 1,000 items owned by Marussia in an auction at the team's headquarters in Oxfordshire, south-east England. The equipment included steering wheels, gearboxes and race suits whilst the rest is expected to be sold in a second auction later this month.
"A number of parties expressed interest in the private treaty purchase of certain higher value items," says Mr. Rowley. "Discussions in this regard are ongoing, particularly with regard to the IT cluster and the larger pieces of equipment integrated to the building." Even the factory itself is up for grabs and last month Britain's Guardian newspaper revealed that American tycoon Gene Haas is considering taking it over to use as the European headquarters for his F1 team which will launch in 2016.
It raises the hurdle in the way of Marussia returning as it would need to acquire new equipment and possibly even new premises. However, last month the team's former president Graeme Lowdon said that there is still hope as it has retained one very valuable asset ' its entitlement to around $52 million in prize money for finishing ninth in 2014.
This is paid in installments on the last business day of every month during the F1 season from March to November with the final payment due on the last business day of the following February. It means that if Marussia is racing in March then it could lay claim to the money. It will need new investment to stand a chance of doing that.
Mr. Rowley says "there continues to be dialogue with a number of parties who are considering making an investment into the company." However, he adds that "despite extensive discussions, no satisfactory offer or strategy has been offered to presently allow racing to continue." The lack of interest could well be down to the team's financial track record.
The company documents show that in the year to 31 December 2013 Marussia made a net loss of $16.9 million on revenue of $93.8 million. The red ink didn't let up in 2014 when its net loss came to $44.8 million on revenue of $37.9 million over the eight months to 31 August.
The gulf in budgets between the top and bottom of the grid were highlighted in a 2013 report for sports network ESPN which revealed that Ferrari's F1 contract entitles it to a minimum amount of guaranteed annual prize money which came to more than Marussia's entire revenue in 2013.
The team's main source of funding was investment from Marussia's ultimate owner Russian businessman Andrei Cheglakov. However, it also received $10.7 million annually from British driver Max Chilton, son of Grahame Chilton, the former chairman of reinsurer Aon Benfield.. The company documents reveal that "it was apparent to the directors that Andrei Cheglakov was not able to inject sufficient funds to pay all historical creditors."
It is a far bleaker view than the one presented in October 2013 by Mr. Eason who stated that "the team's investors ' led by Andrey Cheglakov ' have moved to clear Â£130 million [$199.3 million] worth of debt to put the team on an even keel for the coming year. With a Russian Grand Prix scheduled for next season, the squad, based at Banbury in Oxfordshire, are possibly the most confident of F1's minnows." How the times have changed. Forbes.com
Key 2015 F1 Dates
2015 car launches
January 21 – Force India
More dates will appear here when confirmed
February 1-4 – Jerez
February 19-22 – Barcelona
February 26-March 1 – Barcelona
March 15 – Australian Grand Prix
March 29 – Malaysian Grand Prix
April 12 – Chinese Grand Prix
April 19 – Bahrain Grand Prix
May 3 – Korean Grand Prix (TBC)
May 10 – Spanish Grand Prix
May 24 – Monaco Grand Prix
June 7 – Canadian Grand Prix
June 21 – Austrian Grand Prix
July 5 – British Grand Prix
July 19 – German Grand Prix
July 26 – Hungarian Grand Prix
August 23 – Belgian Grand Prix
September 6 – Italian Grand Prix
September 20 – Singapore Grand Prix
September 27 – Japanese Grand Prix
October 11 – Russian Grand Prix
October 25 – United States Grand Prix
November 1 – Mexican Grand Prix
November 15 – Brazilian Grand Prix
November 29 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Button's McLaren engineer switches to Williams
(GMM) Jenson Button's race engineer at McLaren is moving to Williams.
The resurgent Williams team beat not only fellow Mercedes-powered grandee McLaren in 2014, but also fabled Ferrari.
In a media statement on Monday, the Grove based team said it has appointed Dave Robson – who since 2010 has been Button's race engineer – to work with Felipe Massa in 2015.
Massa's existing engineer, Andrew Murdoch, has been promoted to senior performance engineer, "with a focus on Valtteri Bottas' car" at the races, Williams added.
Bottas' race engineer Jonathan Eddolls retains his role.
"Off the back of a great 2014 campaign Williams is determined to continue this positive momentum into the new season," said technical boss Pat Symonds.
Meanwhile, following reports McLaren is set to drop its silver livery for 2015 and switch to Honda white, a team spokesman said: "McLaren-Honda has not yet finalized its livery for 2015 and beyond."
Wolff to test new Williams in Barcelona
Susie Wolff will be given a day in the FW37 during the Barcelona pre-season test in mid-February, a Williams spokesperson has told GPUpdate.net. Of course her husband is the Mercedes Motorsports boss so one can assume part of their 'discounted' engine deal is that his wife gets to test the Williams F1 car. She could not be a test driver for the Mercedes factory team because that would be viewed as nepotism.
Wolff, who joined the team as a development driver in 2012, recently stepped up to the role of official test driver, replacing new Sauber recruit Felipe Nasr.
In her enhanced role, Wolff will add to the pair of Friday practice appearances she made during the 2014 season, alongside her ongoing simulator duties.
The first pre-season test takes place at Jerez from February 1-4, with the two Barcelona tests following on February 19-22 and February 26 – March 1 respectively.
Williams, which finished third in last season's championship standings, will field an unchanged driver line-up of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas this year.