Former F1 team owner Gian Carlo Minardi has hit out at the F1 Strategy Group for refusing to let Marussia race with its 2014 car and return to the grid for the 2015 season.
The Minardi team was the Caterham or Marussia of its day, often racing at the back of the grid whilst enjoying small, personal victories such as scoring points and even just surviving.
Its grit and determination saw it through some tough times before eventually being sold to Red Bull following the 2005 season after 20 years of racing in F1. The team was then rebranded as Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2006.
Mr. Minardi has remained a vocal figure within the F1 community though, and made his thoughts on the Strategy Group’s decision to reject Marussia’s request perfectly clear.
“It’s absurd and unsportsmanlike behavior”, Minardi told his own website, minardi.it. “The opposing small teams hope to split up the remaining prize money that was due to Marussia, but perhaps they did not count to ten. Get rid of the two Cinderellas – Marussia and Caterham – and the grid shrinks.”
Minardi believes that without the backmarkers, the bigger outfits will find themselves on the back row of the grid and perhaps question their involvement in F1.
“The last row would be occupied by teams with far greater budgets and ambitions, such as Force India, Sauber and Lotus. It could have serious consequences both commercially and in terms of team image.”
Minardi’s comments are indeed salient, for without the backmarkers, the bigger teams spending far bigger amounts will find themselves running about at the very back. This may prompt them to question whether it is worth racing just to finish last, resulting in future withdrawals.
A lack of success on track was the main reason behind Toyota, BMW and Honda’s withdrawals from F1 in 2008 and 2009, causing the sport to lose three major manufacturers.
Marussia’s story is not over yet though. Despite the Strategy Group refusing to let it racing using its 2014 car, the team has outlined its plans to return to the grid in 2015 under the name Manor Grand Prix, with fresh investment giving the operation new hope for the year ahead.
Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.
Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.
Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.
Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.
But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.
“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”
Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.
Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.
“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”
The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.
But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.
“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”
Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.
The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.
“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.
“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.
“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”