Glock’s gamble: how one hard decision ended a career

Timo Glock Canada 2011-Cropped

Today it was announced that Timo Glock has parted ways with Marussia. All sides have come clean and confessed that the decision was commerical, not sporting.

There is no point in pretending otherwise, because Timo Glock was that rare beast — a backmarker who had the respect of his peers up front. Leaders will often use tailend drivers as scapegoats, moaning about blue flags and so forth. But they can’t do that to Glock, because his credentials are so good.

It’s not often that F1 drivers flock to Twitter to express their sadness when a driver loses his seat. But Glock fielded the tributes from Mark Webber, Paul di Resta, Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez among others.


So how did this talented and obviously well-liked driver end up being sacked by the worst team on the grid? It all goes back to one difficult decision he had to make back in 2009.

A driver with potential

Like the drivers paying tribute to him on Twitter today, I am also a fan of Timo Glock. He scored a point in his first race, finishing an impressive 7th in the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix. At the time it was just a one off race for Jordan, but he returned to complete the final three races of the season.

It was probably too soon for him to be racing full-time in F1 though. In 2005 he spent a year in ChampCar before returning to Europe to conquer the GP2 Series.

Glock’s  F1 comeback was in 2008 with the underachieving Toyota team. He was a match for his vastly more experienced team mate, Jarno Trulli. In his two years at Toyota, Glock grabbed two 2nd place finishes and one 3rd place finish. Both years he finished 10th in the Drivers’ Championship — solid finishes for a relatively inexperienced driver in a midfield car.

Showing flashes of talent, it looked as though Timo Glock’s career had the potential to be a good one. Then Toyota decided to pull out of F1.

The difficult decision

Fernando Alonso 2009 Singapore 2

Timo Glock ended up having to find a drive when most seats had already been filled. For a while, it seemed as though he was going to sign for Renault. But at the time, it was a team in turmoil. The Nelsinho Piquet “crashgate” scandal still lingered over the Enstone-based team, having just recently been uncovered.

Moreover, the French manufacturer was in the process of reducing its involvement with the team. With a change of ownership on the cards, the team faced a very uncertain future.

The uncertainty was too much for Glock, because he ended up not signing for Renault after all.

In the end, Glock opted to sign for Manor, who went on to change their name to Virgin before later becoming Marussia. No doubt Glock will have realised at the time that going to Manor was not an ideal choice. But manufacturers are fickle when it comes to their involvement in motorsport. Having been burnt by the abrupt pull-out of Toyota, it’s easy to understand why Glock was wary of the same thing happening to him at Renault.

Virgin No Wing Jerez (cropped)

Meanwhile, though Manor had lots of experience in lower categories, it was new to F1. It also had a low budget. But at the time it felt as though there was a much lower chance of them pulling out of F1.

The benefit of hindsight

It’s incredible to recall all of this today. The Enstone-based team is now Lotus. It appears to be well run and is backed by an impressive army of blue chip sponsors. One of its drivers was even a contender for the 2012 Drivers’ Championship.

Meanwhile, Manor has undergone all sorts of commercial stresses. And amid the continued failure of its CFD-only design approach, has had to change the way it goes about designing cars. All the while, they have remained rooted near the back of the grid.

The problem for Glock is that, even though it is well known that he is a very capable driver, it is difficult to prove it when you are in such an inferior car. In his three years at the team, his best race finish was one 12th place.

Haunted

It seems as though it was beginning to get to Timo Glock, because he was steadily becoming less and less impressive. It must be tough to motivate yourself when you know you have almost no chance of even scoring a point, never mind challenging for race wins or championships.

Two races into the 2011 season, James Allen wrote that Glock looked “a haunted man”, clearly disturbed by his car’s lack of pace.

On the back of that, I wrote an article about what might have been for Timo Glock:

[T]he situation could hardly have gone worse for Timo Glock. He had a difficult decision to make, but as things stand it has turned out to be unambiguously the wrong one. It could cost his career dearly. To be pottering around in a car that may not even be fast enough to qualify does not befit a driver of Timo Glock’s stature.

Those fears have continued to come true. Not only has he remained pottering around near the back of the field, but he has also ended up being sacked because the team needs the money from a driver that can afford to pay for a drive.

It’s difficult to imagine how Timo Glock could have been more unlucky in his F1 career. In 2009 he was not to know how things would turn out. It must be tough knowing that one different decision might have changed your career forever.


Thanks to Mark Hendy for pointing out my mistake in describing Manor as a new team.

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