Force India defend pulling the plug on Marussia return

 

The Force India deputy team principal, Bob Fernley, has accused Marussia of “a really poor show” in a bid to claim a place on the Formula One grid for this season.

At a meeting of the Formula One Strategy Group held in Paris on Thursday, a motion for Marussia – renamed as Manor Grand Prix on the 2015 entry list – to compete using a modified version of last year’s car was blocked.

The Strategy Group comprises the FIA, Formula One’s chief executive,  Bernie Ecclestone, and the leading six teams – Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Williams and Force India. Fernley has confirmed he was the first person asked to vote, and as soon as he said “no”, the matter was drawn to a swift conclusion.

The situation has resulted in a sharp backlash from fans against the Silverstone-based marque and Fernley, who have been accused of greed and hypocrisy. Only last season co-owner and team principal Vijay Mallya expressed regret at the demise of Marussia and Caterham after they fell into administration and insisted the sport needed the smaller teams.

It now appears that, if Manor fail to make the grid, the revenues they were due to receive for back-to-back top-10 constructors’ championship finishes – £26.2m – will be divided among the nine competing teams.

Asked about the antipathy generated towards Force India, Fernley said: “You’ve got to remember people are responding on an emotional basis with no facts.

“At the end of the day I have to make decisions with my head and not my heart, and I can’t shrink from decisions just because I’m worried about a popularity contest on Twitter.”

Fernley claims Manor’s proposal lacked any substance, and added: “Not a single document was provided. We don’t even know who the owners are. It was a no-brainer. There wasn’t the slightest bit of information other than a paragraph asking for Marussia to run a ‘14 car in ‘15.

“You can’t possibly make a decision on that, so it was a really poor show from Marussia. If I thought it was my last throw of the dice I would have done a presentation with all the bells and whistles, and everything else I could  possibly think of, to convince everybody.

“Do I feel bad? Yes, I do, really bad, because Force India has fought like hell for all the smaller teams.”

Fernley concedes the financial aspect was a factor, but far from the overriding one at the end of the day. “You have to say there is an element of truth in that, but is that the reason why the decision was made? No,” he said.

“Would I appreciate another four of five million [US dollars]? Yes, I would, but that didn’t have any bearing on the decision.

“With all due respect, four to five million is not going to make that much difference between Force India surviving or not. Of course, it absolutely helps, and we will be pleased to have it, but that’s not the process.

“The key element is you have to put in a credible presentation and tell people who your owners are, how you’re going to go about things, when you’re going to bring a 2015 car.”

Fernley has urged Manor if they want to re-submit their bid then to do so, but with total clarity for everyone to understand. “The onus is on Marussia to bring in a proposal that is going to satisfy the FIA, the commercial rights holder and the teams,” he said.

“They have to show they are capable of fielding a car for 2015 because they are asking for a huge dispensation to use a ‘14 car.”

It is understood, though, that while the vote by the Strategy Group is a set-back, takeover plans by former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King remain ongoing.

King, who resigned from his position at Sainsbury’s after 10 years in the post last July, emerged this week as the man trying to save the marque from oblivion.

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