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Interview: Manor’s Booth bows out after six hard years

Interview: Manor’s Booth bows out after six hard years

By Alan Baldwin

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – John Booth summed up his time as a Formula One team principal with typical Yorkshire bluntness after bowing out in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

“It’s been a bloody tough six years. I’m absolutely drained,” the departing Manor Marussia boss told Reuters before flying off, not so much into the sunset as towards a rising sun and well-earned rest.

“I’ve neglected my wife so the first thing I’m going to do is go to Australia for three weeks. It’s a good opportunity to clear the mind.”

Booth, now 60, has lived the dream and endured the nightmares in a lifetime in motorsport that saw him compete against Ayrton Senna in Formula Ford in the early 1980s and then work with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen in junior series.

The one-time boss of Manor Motorsport found success as a team owner in Formula Three and moved into F1 in 2010 as one of three entries lured in with the promise of a cost cap and guaranteed payments.

The other two, HRT and Caterham, have already folded but Manor Marussia — which started out as Virgin Racing and then became Russian-owned Marussia before its latest incarnation — lives on after fighting back from administration.

Booth, who has resigned along with sporting director Graeme Lowdon, did not want to go into the details but said the team was well-placed for the future despite failing to score a point this year.

Of his own future, he was less certain.

“I’ve been involved in motorsport since I was 23…so it’s a hard thing just to walk away from, isn’t it?,” said the butcher’s son from Rotherham.

“If I had to answer that now, I’d say no,” he added when asked whether he might return to the paddock one day. “But who knows? After two or three weeks in the sunshine you never know.

“If the facts had been known when we started, I doubt we would have started. Or been able to start,” he said, casting his mind back to 2010.

“(FIA President) Max (Mosley) had told us it was going to cost us 30 million (euros) and we’d get 30 million in prize money. Easy choice isn’t it? And we’d get 20,000 rpm and bigger wings. Great, why not give it a go? And of course that quickly changed.”

Marussia only ever scored points in one race, the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix when their late French driver Jules Bianchi finished an astonishing ninth.

Bianchi, who died this year, suffered fatal head injuries in Japan a few months later — his car skidding into a recovery tractor at Suzuka — in a season that turned from triumph to tragedy.

But his legacy was securing ninth in the constructors’ championship for the team and crucial millions in prize money.

The team had already been mourning the death in 2013 of Spanish development driver Maria de Villota who suffered severe head injuries in one of their cars at a straight line test in England a year earlier.

If those events remain raw, and Monaco the performance high, Booth singled out another race as a personal favourite.

“It would be easy to say Monaco 2014, which was a high of course, but I think rolling two cars out of the garage in Bahrain in 2010,” he said.

“It was eight months from having nothing. We didn’t even have a spanner in the place. We had an office and a workshop. There was myself, Dave O’Neill the team manager and Laura who’s still with us now. And that was it.

“We were sat in an office. Right, how do we build a Formula One team?”

It had all started with a telephone call to the FIA to enquire about the chances of entering a team in Formula One’s GP2 support series on behalf of an investor who did not want to buy an existing outfit.

The reply was no, but it was accompanied by another question: “How do you fancy Formula One?”

“Maybe it has been a dream. I might wake up tomorrow (and find out),” said Booth.

(Editing by Rex Gowar)

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