Austria 2016 retrospective: The final stand of F1's last true minnow team

The latest version of F1's last real Minnow team
The history of Formula 1 is full of outsider stories and teams that have been overflowing with the resources available. LUKE SMITH looks back at F1's last real Minnow team - Manor - and how everything fell apart after reaching a new high
While the focus may be on the fight at the top, while Formula 1 is preparing for the start of its late 2020 season, fate must be followed at the end of the grid.
After a calmer winter and improved pre-season testing, Williams will take a step towards midfield F1 this year - something that is needed at a time when additional funds are needed to secure the future.
But as miserable as the 2019 campaign may have been, Williams has not yet achieved "backmarker" or "minnow" status, nor has he ever given his great story.
The last real F1 minnow came in the form of the Manor team. After being rescued in 2014 by Stephen Fitzpatrick from the ailing Marussia project, founded in 2010 on the condition of a tiny cost ceiling that never existed, Manor limped firmly to the back of the field the following year.
But 2016 brought reasons for hope. The Marussia name disappeared, as did the outdated chassis - the MR03B - and the units. A contract was signed for Mercedes engines, which paved the way for DTM master Pascal Wehrlein to the team, while Nikolas Tombazis and Pat Fry strengthened the technical department.
The better prospects for Manor in 2016 quickly became apparent when Wehrlein qualified 16th in Bahrain and narrowly missed promotion to the second quarter. He soon began to mix it regularly with the Sauber drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, and routinely beat his team-mate Rio Haryanto.
The latest version of F1's last real Minnow team
In the ninth season of the season in Austria, Sauber and Manor were tied due to Nasr's 12th place in Baku for P10 in the constructors' championship. While the latest junk may not seem that big now, the fact that commercial rights only covered the top 10 in the designer rankings meant that any team outside of it would be seriously out of their own pockets for the future.
PLUS: How Sauber twice saved itself from extinction
The Red Bull Ring was the first title on the 2016 calendar with which Wehrlein had previously gained experience. With a lap of less than 70 seconds and some decent straights, Manor seemed to have a chance to fight at least a little more than the wooden spoon.
That became clear in qualifying. Haryanto qualified 19th ahead of Daniil Kvyat's Saubers and Tori Rosso, while Wehrlein finished tenth in the first quarter. He proved that his pace was no accident when he finished 12th in the second qualifying phase, finishing 10th just 0.128 seconds ahead of Jenson Buttons McLaren. A spot in the third quarter was within reach - but it did little to strengthen Wehrlein's hopes for Sunday's race.
"I have to be honest and say that tomorrow is a different story," said Wehrlein. "We have to deal with tire deterioration in the races and at the moment we lack some downforce, which is hard for the rear tires."
"The forecast is that the weather will be a little unpredictable. Hopefully that could mess things up and help us. My plan is to drive every lap as quickly as possible and see where we are going."
"I thought the race was over because we had so much bad luck with the safety car," said Pascal Wehrlein
Since Felipe Massa - who was supposed to start in tenth - was instead forced to start from the pit lane, Wehrlein had a clear track ahead of him at the beginning, but was lucky enough to avoid a penalty for accidentally entering Massa's starting place before going fast reversed into its correct position.
Wehrlein stayed in 12th place when Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz Jr. got through on the first lap, but managed to keep McLaren's Fernando Alonso at bay with ultra-soft tires during the first stint, making him sixth on lap 13 Space could rise.
The later stop had enabled many of the drivers to reach places on the undercut, which meant that Wehrlein came out of the pits with a low 17th place. He would struggle behind Sainz and Haryanto before being overtaken by Kevin Magnussen's Renault, causing Manor to make a second stop on lap 23. Wehrlein remained in last place before driving one lap in front of the leaders.
The latest version of F1's last real Minnow team
But when Sebastian Vettel suffered a puncture and the safety car was called, Wehrlein threw a lifeline. He could relax and cling to the back of the field again. Wehrlein drove on soft tires that Manor had worn for much of the season and hoped to get them to the end of the race - which meant he had 48 laps to hold.
The first 10 laps at the restart kept Wehrlein in last place before he started climbing up the field. He won places on Esteban Gutierrez 'Haas and Nasr when both pitches before passing Haryanto, and then made up more places than drivers had to deal with tire wear before them. Magnussen, Ericsson and Jolyon Palmer fell behind, as did Nico Hülkenberg's Force India. Even after passing Valtteri Bottas, Wehrlein moved up to 12th place 10 laps before the end.
Wehrlein was brought to the edge of the points eight laps before the end when Alonso suffered a battery failure. He had managed to roll into 10th place in Bottas when the Williams struggled to keep his tires alive, while Massa's pressure eased after a braking problem that had forced him to retire a few laps earlier would have.
When the belligerent race directors Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton closed and the blue rain flared due to the light rain, Wehrlein was forced to relax to his frustration.
When Sergio Perez suffered a braking error on the penultimate lap and drove straight ahead in turn 3, he finished 10th in Wehrlein. Despite Gutierrez's late pressure, he was only able to bring home the third point and the second top 10 result in the F1 history of the Manor operation.
"I thought the race was over because we had so much bad luck with the safety car," said Wehrlein after the race. "But I kept pushing and trying to manage my tires because I didn't want to stop again.
The latest version of F1's last real Minnow team
"I was hoping to get a crazy scenario when Rosberg and Hamilton came in the blue flags and therefore had an advantage. Otherwise it would have been difficult to overtake [Bottas] because he was on 10 or 15 rounds of super softs and I was on soft tires over 40 laps old.
"I could still fight with him, so it was a great performance of the car today. I don't know where it came from!"
It was the first race of the year in which Manor didn't have to struggle with his tires, supported by the cooler temperatures on a dreary day in Spielberg. There were undoubtedly good luck when Perez, Massa, Alonso, Hülkenberg and Gutierrez suffered setbacks, but Wehrlein was only overtaken twice in the race. The mansion clearly had the pace.
It was the team's first point since Jules Bianchi's ninth place in Monaco in 2014 and a huge boost to his future.
But it would be the last real highlight for Manor. In the course of the season, Sauber began to become clear in the cellar battle. Even the arrival of Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon instead of Haryanto in Spa was not enough to lift the team again. Towards the end of the season, it finished tenth in the constructors' standings.
"When I took over the team in 2015, the challenge was clear. It was imperative that the team finish 10th or better in 2016," said Stephen Fitzpatrick
And then came Brazil, the wet race that would be the last nail in the coffin for Manor's future. Ocon drove an excellent drive to 12th place - only five laps before the end the points were dropped - in order to achieve the best result of the team since Wehrlein's point in Austria.
But when Nasr took ninth place for Sauber and scored two valuable points for the Swiss squad, Manor fell back to last place in the designer's table. Manor was unable to restore the site in Abu Dhabi and suffered a financial setback of around £ 30m.
The latest version of F1's last real Minnow team
On January 6, 2017, Manor announced that the company had entered administration after failing to find the necessary investments in the winter.
"When I took over the team in 2015, the challenge was clear. It was imperative that the team finish 10th or better in 2016," said team owner Fitzpatrick.
"We were on the track most of the season, but the dramatic race in Brazil has ended our hopes for this result and ultimately challenged the team's ability to race in 2017."
Three weeks later, the operating company confirmed that it had stopped trading after not finding a buyer. It was a sad end to the Manor story, especially after standing so high in Austria that it demonstrated its ability to fight with the established midfield teams.
His presence on the grid also gave promising young guns breaks in Wehrlein and Ocon. At a time when so many youngsters are looking for a place on the F1 grid, two additional F1 seats would be very welcome.
However, the closure also demonstrated the shortcomings in F1's financial agreements. While adding an extra incentive not to finish last, the conditions were always created for a 10-team grid. If suggestions for future expansion come true, there is hope that the revised 2021 terms will be more flexible to prevent history from repeating itself.
The latest version of F1's last real Minnow team
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