Last night came the news that Luiz Razia had been dropped from the Marussia team after his sponsors failed to pay the promised funds for him to get the seat.
Razia has been replaced by Ferrari protégé and former Force India reserve driver Jules Bianchi, who will now partner Max Chilton at the team ahead of the new season.
The question of whether turfing Razia out is fair or not is another matter, but the main point here should be why Marussia took him on in the first place if there was ever any doubt over whether the Brazilian would be able to produce the funds that he had guaranteed.
While it must be assumed that it was Razia and his partners that approached Marussia over the vacant drive, there really should have been a bit of digging and checking to find out beyond any reasonable doubt whether his sponsors really did have the funds they claimed they had.
Did Marussia contact those who had promised to fund Razia in what would have been his rookie season? Did they get cast-iron guarantees from those people to ensure the money would be paid? Was there ever any doubt that the promised money would not materialise?
It could well be that Marussia did all of these things, but even then they could have taken steps to ensure that the money would be coming their way. They could have insisted that Razia’s sponsors pay a sum large enough for him to start the season, they could have asked for proof that the money was indeed available and they could have made Razia’s backers sign a legally-binding contract to ensure the money would be paid before giving him the drive.
These are all simple measures Marussia could have taken to prevent this situation from arising. As a result, its preparations for the new season have been disrupted. The team is the most financially troubled team on the grid at the moment and the problems with getting funding from Razia will undoubtedly affect their turnover.
The other big problem the team faces concerns the amount of testing available. By only signing Bianchi at the final test he will have just one and a half days in the car before Australia, hardly enough time to become comfortable with his new car ahead of the first race. Although the 23-year-old should be faster than teammate Chilton, the lack of seat time could mean we get several races into the new season before he can show his true potential. With Marussia having a stronger car than main rivals Caterham at the moment, they have put themselves in a very poor position to take advantage of it.
On the flip side, however, Marussia may well have ended up in a better position. Bianchi, a consistent title contender in both GP2 and World Series by Renault over the years, is a highly talented driver with a lot of pedigree behind him. Razia, although finishing runner-up in GP2 last season, had not shown that kind of form prior to 2012 and although a good prospect, is probably not quite at the level of his replacement. If Bianchi can settle in quickly he should be able to get more out of the car than Razia could have done.
The other thing on offer is a potential Ferrari engine supply for 2014. It is thought that the Scuderia were previously offering Force India a cut-price engine deal if they took on Bianchi, so one would think that , despite Marussia denying this is the case, the same thing could well apply here. With Marussia’s engine supplier Cosworth unlikely to remain in the sport beyond the end of this season, the team could well have landed themselves a customer engine deal at a vastly reduced price. Whether that does happen does remains to be seen though.
However, whatever advantages the team may gain from taking on Bianchi, the fact does remain that somewhere along the line, they let their guard slip with regards to Razia. The Brazilian should never have been given the drive without a 100% guarantee that he could produce the money, and Marussia’s failure to ensure that has compromised their preparations for the new season.
Only time will tell how much that affects them.