Back markers, mobile chicanes, call them what you like, but they’ve been in Formula One pretty much from the outset.
Of course, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and many champions have voiced their grievances at having a result compromised by a slower car holding them up. But they are there for a reason, and it is my contention that they are a necessary part of the grid.
There are three tiers of team currently in F1. The front-runners consist of those who have won or are capable of winning races, currently Red Bull, Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari. Next come the midfield teams of which McLaren have slipped into to join the likes of Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber. Then we have the back markers, to which Caterham and Marussia belong.
Both teams stand apart from the rest as regularly finishing one to two laps behind the race-winning machine, and it has been the case for some time now. Marussia has effectively been in the sport since 2010 after buying out Virgin Racing, while Caterham, previously Team Lotus, have been patrolling the back of the grid for the same length of time.
There have been times this season that both teams have got close to the performance of Williams in particular, but more often than not they have been fighting amongst themselves at the back. So what, then, is the point of it all?
They Provide Another Interesting Variable
How often in the past have we seen back markers being instrumental in some of the greatest overtaking manoeuvres of all time?
If Ayrton Senna had not been distracted in coming up to lap Stefan Johansson’s Onyx at Hungary in 1989, we may not have seen Nigel Mansell sweep out to pass both of them. And who can forget Ricardo Zonta’s part in Mika Hakkinen’s stunning overtaking of Michael Schumacher in Spa when he split to the right of the BAR into Les Combes for a quite stunning pass?
The weather and tyres in particular this season have added to the spectacle but who can say they don’t get genuinely excited when the leaders come up to the back markers? Mark Webber, perhaps, when Giedo van der Garde chopped across his front wing when he came up to lap him in Canada.
They Offer Aspiring Drivers a Route into F1
Very few drivers get their first break as a Formula One driver in one of the top teams.
Even if they have impressed in the junior categories below F1, most stars of the future find themselves making their first steps in the big league with teams unable to challenge for race wins.
Damon Hill began his F1 career being lapped in a Brabham before finding himself in a winning car with Williams the following year.
Minardi is perhaps the best example of a team that has provided a schooling for some of the best drivers in the sport, including Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella, Mark Webber and, of course, Fernando Alonso.
Perhaps there’s no getting away from the fact that there will always be new privateer teams wanting to get into the fast-moving world of Formula One.
Marussia operates on the smallest budget in F1 but still made a loss of £56 million according to Planet-F1.com.
But the sport’s Concorde Agreement, which all teams have to sign, entitles them to a valuable share of the sport’s revenue. According to the Financial Express, Marussia is the only team still to sign.
The cost of running an F1 team just for a season runs into tens of millions even with today’s emphasis on cost-cutting measures, but if there are willing investors and enough passion for the sport, the so-called "minnows" will continue to be a part of the grid.