Formula 1Season Review

2016 Season Review: Manor Racing MRT – At the back, but only just

8 Mins read
Manor had a close battle for P10 in the championship with Sauber - Credit: Manor Racing

#31 – Esteban Ocon – France – 9 Starts, 0 Points, Best Finish: 12th (Brazil), Championship Position: 23rd

#88 – Rio Haryanto – Indonesia – 12 Starts, 0 Points, Best Finish: 15th (Monaco), Championship Position: 24th

#94 – Pascal Wehrlein – Germany – 21 Starts, 1 Point, Best Finish: 10th (Austria), Championship Position: 19th

Comparing the 2016 Formula 1 season with the 2015 season will see just how much progress was made by the Manor Racing MRT squad, and for a ten-race streak, it looked as though they would climb from the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship standings, only to be denied with just two races remaining.

Pascal Wehrlein’s strong performance around the Red Bull Ring where he clinched only a second points finish for the team in their now-six year history had moved Manor ahead of the Sauber F1 Team in the championship standings, but Felipe Nasr’s ninth place finish in the Brazilian Grand Prix was enough for the Swiss team to jump back ahead.

Subsequently, financial doubts have resurfaced for the team, with a takeover or large investment likely to be required during the off-season, while the loss of potentially both of the Mercedes-Benz protégés that graced their team in the second half of the season could also hurt their chances heading into 2017.

Rio Haryanto became the first Indonesian Formula 1 driver when he made his debut in Australia – Credit: Manor Racing

Manor switched over from Ferrari to Mercedes power in 2016, but where they were lacking was in the aero department, and it was no surprise that the team were often at the back of the field, but the comparison between this season and 2015 was mind-blowing. Whereas Will Stevens, Roberto Merhi and Alexander Rossi were all but guaranteed to lock out the back row last season, qualifying this year was far more unpredictable, and Wehrlein even managed to get out of the first segment of qualifying on five occasions.

Wehrlein was joined in the team at the beginning of the season by multiple GP2 Series race winner Rio Haryanto, who became the first ever Indonesian Formula 1 driver, but the year started with a disappointing qualifying performance for the Australian Grand Prix, with Wehrlein becoming the first casualty of the ill-thought of elimination qualifying, closely followed by Haryanto, but it was the Indonesian who started at the back of the grid after a grid penalty for causing a collision with Romain Grosjean during practice.

Wehrlein ran relatively competitively on race day, taking advantage of the early chaos to around the midfield runners, only to drop back to the rear of the field at the end as pit stop dramas and high tyre degradation caused him to drop down the order, while Haryanto was forced into retirement early on due to a mechanical issue that prevented him from returning to the track when the race resumed following the red flag for Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez’s crash.

Wehrlein managed to qualify sixteenth for the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Haryanto twenty-first, and both drivers managed to see the chequered flag, the German up in thirteenth having been around the top ten in the early stages, and his team-mate seventeenth.

Wehrlein was unfortunate to find a wet patch during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, with the German finding himself spat into the barriers on the start/finish straight as a result, meaning he joined Lewis Hamilton on the final row of the grid, while Haryanto was the slowest of those to set a time and started twentieth. Wehrlein managed to make his way to eighteenth at the chequered flag, while in a race where every driver finished, Haryanto was twenty-first, ahead only of Jolyon Palmer.

Wehrlein and Haryanto started twentieth and twenty-first for the Russian Grand Prix, but the Indonesian’s race was over by the time they reached turn two, when he found himself unable to avoid a clash between Gutierrez and Nico Hülkenberg, with Haryanto’s car getting some air in the incident. Wehrlein was the last finisher in eighteenth but lost the opportunity of a better result due to a lacklustre pit stop, something that would plague the team during 2016.

Pascal Wehrlein, Rio Haryanto and Esteban Ocon all drove well for Manor in 2016 – Credit: Manor Racing

Wehrlein and Haryanto were right at the back of the field during qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix and were the last classified finishers in sixteenth and seventeenth positions, while they were the slowest of those to set a time during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix as well, although problems for Nasr and Max Verstappen meant they started nineteenth and twentieth, only again to find themselves at the back of the field on race day, Wehrlein fourteenth ahead of Haryanto.

Wehrlein managed to elevate himself to eighteenth on the grid for the Canadian Grand Prix as the Mercedes power unit enabled the team to show more of their strengths, especially down the long back straight, although Haryanto could only qualify twenty-first, ahead only of Kevin Magnussen, who did not participate in the session following a crash during final practice. Race day saw Wehrlein finish seventeenth and Haryanto nineteenth, either side of Nasr’s Sauber, with the Swiss team quickly turning out to be the team’s main rivals in the championship in 2016.

It was a better qualifying performance by the team for the European Grand Prix, with the Baku Street Circuit seeing Haryanto starting sixteenth and Wehrlein seventeenth, although race day was more of a disappointment, particularly for the German who was eliminated with eleven laps to go due to brake failure having run inside the points early on, while Haryanto could do no better than eighteenth after finding himself cut off from the pack early on when forced to pit for a new front wing.

Pascal Wehrlein scored a point in the Austrian Grand Prix – Credit: Manor Racing

But then came the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, and the breakthrough race for both Wehrlein and Manor. In a fantastic qualifying performance by the young German, Wehrlein took an excellent twelfth on the grid having made it through to Q2 for the first time, and then drove the race of his life to date, claiming tenth position and the final point. There was an element of luck in play when Sergio Perez retired ahead of him on the final lap, but Wehrlein was in points contention all day and finished right on the tail of Valtteri Bottas. Haryanto had a much quieter weekend, qualifying nineteenth and finishing sixteenth.

Haryanto out-qualified Wehrlein for the British Grand Prix, but it was not a race either wanted, with both finding themselves out after spinning into the gravel trap at turn one, the Indonesian on his twenty-fifth lap but well after the German had done it at beginning of lap seven. Both could be considered unlucky as they caught wetter than expected track conditions at a part of the circuit that saw a number of spins and off-track excursions during the race.

It was a disappointing qualifying effort by the team for the Hungarian Grand Prix, with both Wehrlein and Haryanto crashing out of the wet session, forcing them to start at the back of the field, while the duo were again the final two classified finishers on race day, finishing twentieth and twenty-first respectively.

Wehrlein qualified eighteenth for the German Grand Prix, the final race before the summer break, while Haryanto was twentieth on what would turn out to be his final race for the team. Both drivers managed to see the chequered flag, the German in seventeenth and the Indonesian twentieth, before he found himself ousted in favour of Esteban Ocon.

Esteban Ocon made his F1 debut in the Belgian Grand Prix – Credit: Manor Racing

Wehrlein made his second appearance in Q2 at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix, while Ocon impressed to qualify eighteenth on debut as the two Mercedes-Benz protégés went head to head for the first time. Unfortunately, the German’s race was over on the opening lap after a collision with Jenson Button, while the Frenchman managed to see the chequered flag in sixteenth, holding off the challenge of Nasr in the final laps.

Another Q2 appearance occurred at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza for Wehrlein, qualifying up in fourteenth, but Ocon failed to set a time after stopping on track with a mechanical issue that had resurfaced from free practice. Unfortunately, Wehrlein’s race day was cut short with an engine problem that caused his engineer to call him to stop at the earliest opportunity so not to hurt more components of the power unit. The team managed to solve Ocon’s technical issues for race day, but he was the final finisher in eighteenth.

Whereas the fast nature of Spa and Monza suited the MRT05, the Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore certainly did not, and they were the slowest of those who set a representative lap time, ahead only of Sebastian Vettel who suffered with mechanical issues during the session. Wehrlein drove well to finish sixteenth, ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, while Ocon ended eighteenth after two dreadful pit stops that cost him almost a lap.

It was a similar story in qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, with only the engine penalty affected Alonso behind the Manor duo, although Ocon did get the better of Wehrlein during the session. They both managed to stay out of trouble at the start, with Ocon managing to run inside the top ten in the early moments before ultimately falling back to the rear of the field, finishing behind his team-mate as they finished fifteenth and sixteenth respectively.

Ocon qualified ahead of Wehrlein again for the Japanese Grand Prix, although the two drivers were the slowest during the qualifying session. Both did however start ahead of Button, who suffered an engine penalty, but both dropped to the rear of the pack again during the race, which again saw no retirements.

Pascal Wehrlein has been linked with moves to both Mercedes and Sauber for 2017 – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Wehrlein was back ahead of Ocon in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, with the German also getting ahead of Nasr’s Sauber, although Ocon was unable to match his team-mate, starting at the back of the field. Both had relatively straightforward races, but neither was in contention for a top result, although Wehrlein did finish again on the tail of Bottas, like he did in Austria.

Wehrlein made his fourth appearance in Q2 for the Mexican Grand Prix, qualifying up in sixteenth compared to Ocon in twentieth, but the German’s race was over at turn three on the opening lap, finding himself in the middle of Gutierrez and Ericsson and finding himself with a broken suspension. Ocon had a much quieter afternoon, finishing at the back of the field in twenty-first.

The Brazilian Grand Prix saw both drivers running inside the points early in the race as they stayed on the full wet tyres while others gambled on intermediates, but unfortunately both fell down the order and out of the points, finishing in twelfth with Ocon and fifteenth for Wehrlein. This, coupled with points for Nasr for Sauber, saw them drop to the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship. Ocon’s performance was particularly impressive, showing the kind of form that proved that Mercedes were right to back his career.

The team went into the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi knowing they would need to score at least a ninth place finish of their own to reclaim tenth in the standings, but it was not to be as Ocon finished thirteenth and Wehrlein fourteenth, the two banging wheels at turn eleven late in the race as they battled for position.

Esteban Ocon drove superbly in Brazil to finish twelfth – Credit: Manor Racing

The disappointment of losing tenth in the championship will probably be felt harder in the financial department, with the millions of dollars of prize money that ultimately went begging thanks to Sauber’s ninth place in Brazil. The team are currently in negotiations with backers to either take over the team or heavily invest, but despite their drop to the bottom of the championship, they should be far happier at the end of 2016 than they did in 2015.

Ocon will not return to the team next year, instead moving across to the Sahara Force India F1 Team, while Wehrlein has also been linked with a move away, possibly to Sauber. Haryanto could make a return with Indonesia seemingly getting behind their driver, although a lot could hinge on who is in control of the team come March and the Australian Grand Prix.

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Long time motorsport fanatic, covering Formula 1 and the occassional other series. Feel free to give him a follow on Twitter at @Paul11MSport.
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