A Reborn Virgin?
A month ago, Marussia Virgin effectively ended the great CFD experiment when they cut ties with Nick Wirth, the plan being to revert to good old wind tunnel testing. It had been a brave experiment, in keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit of Virgin, but presumably the results were not in-line with the expectations of CFD rather than it simply being the design found lacking. 2011 has seen the team lose ground to Lotus and instead they find themselves battling with HRT, or at least the Liuzzi-driven half. So what next for the Anglo-Russian outfit?
It’s back to the drawing board. Manor Motorsport, as the team is under all the sponsorship gloss, know how to race and they have sponsors and drivers. Jerome d’Ambrosio has done a reasonable job and Timo Glock is a great asset. That just leaves the not-so-small matter of how to design and build a car. Toro Rosso found themselves in a similar situation but they had a Red Bull to turn to as a starting point. It’s perhaps with that in mind that Team Lotus bought themselves out of their Cosworth contract in order to secure an essentially Red Bull powertrain package and allowing them to concentrate on the packaging. HRT went with a Williams set up in an attempt to catch up with the midfield and now Virgin are looking to get up to speed with a little help from McLaren.
Andy Webb, Chief Executive, Virgin Racing
This is no straight-forward component supply deal, however. The agreement allows Virgin access to McLaren facilities, including test rigs, driver simulator and wind tunnel. The partnership will also see McLaren management and production staff embedded within Virgin, working in roles permitted by the Concorde Agreement. It’s a similar deal to that previously enjoyed by Force India which coincided with their first podium.
“Our technical partnership with McLaren is very exciting,” says the team’s Chief Executive, Andy Webb. “We can benefit enormously from their far-reaching techniques and capabilities. I have no doubt this partnership will see us take the technical steps necessary to make a significant leap forwards”
However, the Wirth ties are not entirely severed, as the team has acquired their former technical partner, Wirth Racing Technologies and their facilities in Banbury. It leaves the team taking control of its own destiny and is reminiscent of the changes at Ferrari under Jean Todt when, after years of underachievement, they dropped the UK-based Ferrari Design and Development in order to bring the team under a single umbrella at Maranello. The result perhaps speaks for itself. The “Jean Todt” of Virgin’s move appears to be Pat Symonds, Renault’s former technical director who was involved in the ‘crash-gate’ scandal. Whatever your feelings are about him being involved in Formula One, Virgin’s consultant is one of a dying breed who really does understand how to bring together all the different elements needed to build a successful team.
However, while plans are afoot for 2012, what about the rest of this season? There may be benefits of being able to access McLaren’s simulator but with the team’s final update of the season appearing this weekend, will they be able to remain competitive while diverting their focus to next year’s cars. The team have been sailing close to the 107% limit and while the stewards have tended to have been lenient in enforcing the rule, can the team rely on that? Perhaps the off-throttle diffuser ban will provide them the breathing room they need. One thing is for sure, the team do not seem to be lacking in long-term ambition.
Virgin say they will continue to use Cosworth-power next year, which may be simply a financial decision given that they still have one year remaining on their contract. However, with Williams following in the steps of Team Lotus in ditching them for Renault engines from next year, where does that leave Cosworth? They are now down to supplying just two teams after already lost USF1 at the start. Cosworth don’t seem that keen on the new engine regulations and with the introduction of them being put back a year, Cosworth find themselves with no contracts for the final year of the current engine specification. Cosworth always said they needed to supply three teams for their venture to be viable. Will Cosworth call it a day at the end of the season? Maybe that’s just the decision that Virgin are quietly hoping for…
Credit: Marussia Virgin Racing