16 January 2011

Virgin looking good to penetrate midfield

Now heading into their second Formula 1 championship season, the Marussia Virgin Racing team can now officially say they have lost their Formula 1 virginity! In a debut season that featured mixed results at the hands of Timo Glock and debutant Lucas Di Grassi, technical director Nick Wirth expects big things from the year to come.

"We see gain upon gain coming," he said at the Autosport International Show. "The increased productivity and throughput is amazing - and the new car is a very big step forward from the 2010 car."

Now it's not uncommon for teams to talk up their chances ahead of upcoming seasons in a bid to attract sponsors and the like, but Virgin don't strike me as a team strapped for cash; certainly not in the way Hispania are for instance. Former team owner Paul Stoddart reported that they spent in the vicinity of $100 million in their first season! 4 times the budget of former minnows Minardi!

Nevertheless it was enjoyable to watch the entertaining battle that raged throughout the year between themselves and fellow newcomers Lotus Racing. While Lotus came out victorious in the end, courtesy of Kovalainen’s 12th place finish in Suzuka, it was often forgotten that the VR-01 was designed purely using CFD; the first car in history to have been designed in such a way! The fact that it was even close to the green and yellow cars was an achievement in itself!

The Virgin Group pride themselves on going against the grain in the markets they tap into yet when I heard Mr Branson was entering Formula 1 with his own team, or rather buying into Manor GP, I wondered what he was hoping to achieve. As the year played out I was left to wonder some more when their brand remained virtually invisible in the paddock. The Virgin trademarks that we’ve become accustomed to over the years; big parties, clever/ridiculous promotional stunts etc. were nowhere to be seen. Not even one semi-nude display from the famous entrepreneur! I was very surprised.

A year on, their reasoning has become clearer. In 2011 Virgin will be the first team ever to take their aerodynamic testing to the absolute legal limit, as mandated by the FIA, using only CFD. Wirth commented:

In 2011 we will be doing more CFD than any other team on the grid - and I can say that because I know that if we did one day of wind tunnel testing then we would be breaking the rules."

It appears as though Virgin merely wanted to test the waters in 2010 and were preparing much bigger things for the coming season. If their figures are correct and indeed the VR-02 is a ‘big step forward’, it’ll only be more impressive in relation to the competition with the ban on double diffusers coming into effect.

With the team having just installed new computer systems at their Banbury base to further enhance their CFD capabilities, expect their rate of development to be quicker than that of their rivals. It will enable them to bypass the time consuming model making/wind tunnel testing stages and jump straight into the manufacturing process when improvements are found; certainly keeping them in front of Lotus and Hispania and by years end will see them challenging the midfield teams on a regular basis.

The technology is without doubt the future of Formula 1 and the Marussia Virgin Racing team will have a head start on everyone! Exciting times ahead!