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Virgin go their own way with new breed F1 team
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Virgin go their own way with new breed F1 team
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Dec 2009   |  3:54 pm GMT  |  57 comments

Virgin Racing launched today in West London with Sir Richard Branson promising “to be a winner in the end” in Formula 1.

Virgin launch
It was a confident launch; the business package around the team seems strong and the team structure is interesting. To succeed it will require the various components to work together despite cultural and geographical differences. The design side is under Nick Wirth in Oxford and the race team management under Manor’s John Booth in Sheffield. The chairman is the vastly experienced Etienne de Villiers, formerly of Disney and ITV. He has been put in place by the venture capital arm of Lloyds, LDC, which has taken a stake in the team of around 20%.

The commercial department is run by Virgin themselves out of their Hammersmith offices, headed by former Williams commercial director Jim Wright and they have assembled an array of sponsors for the first season. Team principal Alex Tai said that the 10 commercial partners between them would cover the £40 million budget they had set themselves for the year, “so we are fully funded” he said.

One of them has been in F1 before; FX Pro, a large foreign exchange company which was a sponsor of BMW Sauber. Others are new to the sport, like Carbon Green, a sustainable recycling company and Marussia, a Russian car company which is making a supercar it plans to market through F1.

Virgin has the naming rights to the team, so they will get the brand value and name recognition from the cars on the track, but they are not putting any money in. They are putting their brand in and the sponsors are partnering with them so they can access Virgin’s 100 million customers world wide and use the various Virgin channels to create brand awareness, or to make business to business sales. At least half the audience at the launch today was business people and the business case for this team seems very well thought through. The team has signed the Concorde Agreement and Tai said that Virgin plans on being around in F1 for as long as Ferrari.

The key to Branson’s involvement in F1 is the resource restriction agreement, which makes it possible for him to put a team like this together and operate for £40 million, which would have been hopelessly uncompetitive until recently. Branson also made it clear that he is very keen to attract women drivers into the sport and said that the team would be launching an accessible young driver programme aimed at attracting children from families without significant resources. It all sounds quite idealistic, but Branson said he was in the business of making the impossible possible. He also believes that it will be possible to make money in the new era of F1, “rather than pour it away.”

Technically the car has passed all the crash tests, including a tough new one for the non-refuelling era which requires a 40g impact when the tanks are full of water to ensure that there is no burst. Wirth has designed this car entirely using CFD. As he put it, he got sick of looking at 160 people being employed to build and test models in wind tunnels and then throwing away $60,000 worth of carbon models each week.

He’s created a quite a pressure for himself and it will be embarrassing if the car lags behind on aerodynamic performance, but his experience in the USA where his Acura LMP was successful using this CFD strategy gives him confidence. The team has an aggressive development programme which will see performance being brought to the car at every race. Wirth is very happy with the Cosworth performance and reckons they have fixed their fuel consumption issues.

Branson again is setting great store by “backing a talented engineer”, as he did when he announced his Brawn sponsorship deal at the start of the 2009 season. They clearly believe in Wirth and they like the fact that he’s differentiated himself by dispensing with wind tunnels.

“Over the last four decades Virgin has invested in and supported incredible engineering minds who have literally been pushing the technological boundaries of what man previously believed was possible,” said Branson. “We knew there was an extremely successful designer out there who could bring something different to the sport with his all-digital approach to designing racing cars. So we thought ‘why not back a new British team?’ I believe that with the right bunch of people you can achieve anything. It might take a while to get there, but I believe with this team of people on board, Virgin Racing can go all the way.”

Although there were no images to be seen today, the car will have a red and black livery, according to Tai.

Timo Glock was already known to be the lead driver and his team mate, as expected, is Lucas di Grassi, with whom Manor won the Macau GP in 2005. Wirth wanted a driver with F1 experience in one of the cars and is delighted to have landed Glock, who has proved over two seasons in an erratic Toyota car that he has pace and can delivers strong results. Di Grassi is one of those drivers who is perhaps a tenth or two off being special but who has consistency and staying power and will always be around at the finish line. He was highly regarded by Renault engineers, some of whom Wirth has recruited to his new team, like former test team chief engineer Christian Silk.

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57 Comments
  1. Ollie Woods says:

    How on earth does Branson keep getting away with putting little-to-no money into a team yet managing to parade his smug face everywhere?

    1. Jonathan says:

      That’s been his MO for decades. It’s why they wouldn’t give him the lottery (since he wouldn’t back with his own cash).

    2. M__E says:

      in a word. POWER.

  2. martin_tf says:

    I found it impressive and amazing that they can design the car entirely in CFD. Having professional experience in using FEA software (similar principal of operation to CFD but used to analyze structures instead of fluids)I know how difficult it can be to obtain accurate results. Its often used to compare the merits of a design against an alternative with the ultimate performance figures still established by practical testing methods.

    I would assume that they have access to much more upmarket and advanced software and processing power than I have though. Either way it will be fascinating to see how well this car performs in early testing. If they are successful it will show a significant step forward in engineering technology.

    1. Brace says:

      It’s well known in those circles that almost every formula (I’m talking about mathematical formulas :)) have an “error”. It’s just that this error can be tolerated because it so insignificant that it can’t compromise the success of the goal.
      But knowing that there is an error means it can multiply itself over the whole process. Also, in F1 you don’t really have a end goal, you just need to make it as best as possible which means that CFD’s best use is as you mentioned it in comparing things rather than making the final end product.

  3. Jameson says:

    I’m glad that Sir Richard Branson is properly in the sport now, as he brings a huge level of professionalism to a new team. Virgin Racing is the first new team to have a proper and up-to-date website showing their sponsors, driver and technical team line up.

    Virgin Racing will definitely be the best of the new teams on the grid this year with Lotus being second.

    1. Mark says:

      I for one am glad to Branson and he men in F1 in a big way. They seem to be bringing a bit of life nad fun into F1 that hasnt been seen since the Jordan days. In the otherwise political world of F1 I think they will a breath of fresh air bringing with it professionalism.. I also think its pretty impressive they have managed to lure 10 sponsors on board before the car has even turned a wheel, shows the pulling power of the Virgin brand. In todays press, Branson and Fernandez are at it laying down challenges, all good for F1.. Out wth the Rons and Flav’s and in with the new breed!!

  4. Matthew says:

    I hope Virgin Racing do get somewhere. But where James do you think there will be on the grid? They got experience in Glock and youth in Di Grassi.

  5. Jamie says:

    If i remember correctly this isn’t the first f1 car to be designed by cfd, wasn’t the first stewart car designed this way, and that was ok

    1. M__E says:

      You may well be right, but Branson is the master salesman and could pretty much sell sand to the arabs, and make anything sound like it was his origional and ‘revolutionising’ idea, he’s a billionaire for very good reason. The guy is as shrewd as they come!

  6. Lee R says:

    James, I would be really keen to see what you think the chances are of this happening – even just a percentage ‘gut feel’. This feels to me similar to the Jenson to McLaren story, in that at first it seemed to be a ‘game’ or strategic move that was of benefit to both sides (McLaren negotiating with Kimi and Jenson with Brawn vs. Schumi keeping his stock high(er) and Mercedes reparing the damage of the Jenson move) and then, as the days and weeks went by, it seemed to be more and more of a certainty… I’m half expecting you to get a call from Mercedes any day inviting you to another conference call! Hopefully the site won’t go down this time ;-)

    1. Lee R says:

      Sorry, this was supposed to be posted under the Schumi post – must have made a mistake!

  7. Howard Hughes says:

    Man, this kind of stuff is what this site does best… I love the insight into the business aspect of F1. James, you should poach someone like Christian Sylt from Pitpass and develop this site into a proper ‘hub’ for F1, with its own business section that actual movers and shakers as well as fans would visit…

    You could cater for both the ‘will Kimi return?!’ crowd and the folk who want to know how Virgin’s sponsorship deals are being constructed and make this site the absolute number 1 F1 portal on the web…

  8. Tom Adams says:

    I predict Virgin will be fighting with USF1… at the back of the grid…
    Of the new teams i suspect Lotus will be the best, followed by Campos, then Virgin, then USF1…
    Will be interesting to see how Bruno Senna comes along in the Campos, i think De La Rosa would be a good signing for the second Campos seat.

  9. Robert McKay says:

    I quite like this team already. Manor, Glock and di Grassi. Nice combination.

    I’m not so keen on the Branson/Virgin connection. The Virgin-Brawn experience has shown their cynicalness, in my eyes. Turn up in Melbourne at the last minute after it is clear the Brawns will crush everyone, slap a couple of cheap logos on the side for a small amount of money, reap rewards, make sharp exit at end of season.

    I don’t think they will have staying power with Manor. The whole Virgin brand is a bit “jump on the fad of the moment and then jump off again at the peak”.

    But I guess they were needed to get the whole thing off the ground and running.

  10. Andy says:

    Branson is a wiley old fox isn’t he. All the brand exposure and non of the investment.

    Anyway I wish them luck for the new season. Will be interesting to see how a Cfd designed car will do out of the box.

    Can someone remind me where nick wirth was in f1 previously?

    1. Ollie Woods says:

      Bennetton

      1. Glen Slagg says:

        Those of us that remember the olden days (1994) will recall that Nick Wirth was the founder of the ill fated Simtek team – along with some bloke called M.Mosley.

  11. Mark Crooks says:

    What happened to Adam Carroll getting a seat with the team?

  12. rpaco says:

    Never let it be said that Mr Branson throws his money about in sponsorships (airships maybe or balloons). I like that “He is putting his brand in” he is actually getting about £10M worth of publicity. That Lloyds have taken 20% would seem to indicate two things, one that they think they can make money out of F1 (unlikely for several years yet) and two, that they have not learned their lesson from buying HSBC.

    With different parts of the organisation widely spread, it looks like a recipe for a three way argument mid season.

    I would imagine that designing using CFD, FEA etc is a bit like writing a bespoke piece of software and error trapping it to death, only for the user always to find a new way to break it.
    What has perfect flow in the system cannot perform the same when in the hands of drivers who do nasty things like make it move at different speeds and bounce it off kerbs. However if you have sufficient computing power I suppose you can input the actual vibration characteristics from a a lap. (Assuming you are allowed to measure them.)

    1. " for sure " says:

      Lloyds TSB did not buy HSBC! HSBC remains strong and independant and hasn’t so far as I am aware had a cent of support from the UK Government.

      The division of Lloyds that have invested is a Venture Capital business, not the bank.

      1. rpaco says:

        Yes you are quite right, I was wrong, got my mnemonics mixed it was HBOS not Hong Kong~Shanghai Bank of China that Lloyds was conned into buying by Messers Brown and Darling.

  13. Jon Wilde says:

    is it just me or does the Virgin Racing logo and design look a lot like VX Racing from the BTCC? Is Branson trying to save more money by using Vauxhall’s teamwear from this year??

    1. rpaco says:

      Didn’t Vauxhall pull out of BTCC at the end of season? Of course the dust has not yet settled on the GM bankruptcy. So yes there may well be some spare kit about.

  14. Graham says:

    Virtual design is the way to go, the costs associated with traditional model building and wind tunnel testing are obscene. Many other industries already function this way, including some aircraft manufacture.

    Good on them for leading the way, looking forward to all the new teams this year.

  15. bwana says:

    this is why i love your blog James. There is always a piece of interesting information that can’t be found anywhere else.

    In this blog its the news that Virgin is not putting any money in.
    Amazing how Branson has done a deal where he gets all the naming rights for naught. Truly a genius.

    Keep up the good work James!

  16. iceman says:

    He’s a crafty devil isn’t he, Richard Branson. He got the main sponsorship on the Brawn car on the cheap this year, and now he’s got himself title sponsorship of a team without spending a farthing. No wonder he’s so rich!

  17. Rudy Pyatt says:

    Very interesting. How does the 40g impact requirement compare to an Indycar? Those were and are heavier to handle the big impacts that go with ovals.

    Hey! if the F1 cars are that strong now, how about an oval round in the championship?!

    1. Tonksy says:

      “how about an oval round in the championship?!”

      Ummmmm… I don’t think so. Speaking for myself, (although I imagine quite a few other F1 fans might feel the same), if I wanted to watch oval racing I’d have to marry my cousin, have 20 kids and knock out all my teeth just to fit in.

      1. Seth says:

        ummm, no

      2. Rudy Pyatt says:

        From the stereotype given, I presume you mean NASCAR. Not NASCAR stuff (though Trulli enjoyed his recent test). I mean the REAL Indy, or Fontana.

        Then again, hold that thought. With maybe half a dozen exceptions, the F1 fraternity has always shown hesitance – scorn? fear? – for running on the ovals. You can take it all the way back to the Race of Two Worlds. Since then, even then, only all-time greats/World Champions/or all-rounders (Fangio, Moss, Clark, Hill, Stewart, Fitipaldi, Mansell, Montoya, even) have taken the challenge.

        I dunno. Maybe the death of Brooklands (and the bumps at Monza) forever put the F1 at large, and, synonymously, the UK, off of ovals. Too bad. I’d love to see LH and JB bombing into Turn One at Indy.

  18. feynman says:

    Like Orson Welles said, “the greatest enemy of art, is the absence of limitations”

    … with Ebeneezer Branson squeezing the purse, Nick Wirth will have plenty limitations, and plenty artful solutions to magick-up. But I like the cut of his jib, if anyone can get this thing to fly with these constraints, it’s probably him.

    Sure all sort of other engine and mechanical problems waiting out there to bite his ass, but hopefully his CFD car shows us just enough of the good stuff to start game-changing, and we can finally say ta-ta to buildings full of model-makers, guys holding smoke and sticky-back plastic, big propellers and skips and skips full of unsuccesful prototypes.

  19. George says:

    I wish them all the best, I worry slightly with Branson involved but their driver lineup is pretty strong, also black and red livery sounds sweet.

  20. manty says:

    You have to hand it to Branson, he,s landed a title sponsorship deal without putting any money in, what a sharp dude! good luck to him and his team.

  21. kristian says:

    If the Wirth windtunnel wonder is a competitive car are we going to see it have the same effect on the grid as the Tyrrell’s 019 high nose?

  22. Uppili says:

    James,

    It is interesting that you say that

    “The team has an aggressive development programme which will see performance being brought to the car at every race.”

    Doesn’t the resource restriction agreement for next year actually limit the number of updates (3 or 4 for the whole season) to the cars? Thus you can not be bringing updates at all races?

  23. Very interesting. Wish them all the best. F1 badly needs the panache of Branson.

    Roll on 2010.

    Still concerned that we ‘only’ have Lewis and Jenson for 2010, though – and in same car – ie, all eggs in one basket.

    Surely one more Brit’ can find a berth? Hi ho ….

  24. Tom Adams says:

    http://twitter.com/willbuxton

    Any thoughts on this james?

  25. mst says:

    James, if Kubica goes to the Mercedes?

  26. Tarek says:

    Good luck to Virgin Racing. I like the Virgin brand, Richard Branson is a great character, and Timo Glock is a proven talent. So best of luck to Virgin; their incolvement can only be a good thing for F1. I know who I’ll be suuporting among the new teams! (unless Mercedes are considered “new”, of course ;))

  27. Tim Horton says:

    Naming rights and no money in? That is the deal of the century.

  28. Trent says:

    The name ‘Virgin’ will be a minefield for commentators…we’ll have some funny out-of-context quotes by the end of the year I predict!!

  29. Rich C says:

    >>Virgin has … but they are not putting any money in. <<

    That Branson is no dummy, for sure!

    1. MartinWR says:

      Well that’s more than you can say for the people who do business with him. Presumably they value virtual money more highly than the real thing. Very strange.

      Reminds me of Nick Fry doing business with him, and which of them got the most out of that.

      Which then reminds me of Nick Fry and Henkel. And the missing £80 million. Oh dear, getting carried away again.

  30. Obster says:

    Wirth’s Acura ALMS car ran pretty well this year-it was based on a unique concept-using rear tires on all four wheels to make up time in the corners to counter the diesel’s straightline speed.
    He made it work! I did not think he would.
    I know that BMW thought very highly of CFD and were investing in it rather than wind tunnels.
    So many F1 cars have been hampered by inaccurate tunnel data.

  31. matt says:

    any news on kobiyashi??? good driver.

    also, editor@james… doesnt work james.

    1. MartinWR says:

      Kobayashi will drive for Sauber in 2010. Sauber’s got his head screwed on and made a real catch. Now if he can just build the guy a half decent wagon, things could get a bit interesting.

      1. Matt says:

        I know its brilliant!!! i really like the boy.

  32. Norman says:

    A cheap F1 team would mean cheap merchandise.
    Yehey!

    I’m a fan also of Timo. So best wishes to
    Virgin Racing.

  33. Phil H.A says:

    Why did a British team not give a British driver a go? Why di Grassi? Did he have promise at Renualt? So why did they promote the terrible Grosjean for 2009 and then let di Grassi leave when they still need a second driver?

  34. mm says:

    I regret to say, James, but I’m slowly losing respect for Sir Richard Branson and everything associated with the “Virgin” brand. As reported in the Telegraph, “Branson estimated that his association with the Brawn GP team last season brought him coverage worth £62 million per £2 invested”. If that is not bragging, what is?

    I remember him and his entourage arriving with big fanfare in Oz earlier this year, ready to endorse and taking over the promising new Brawn GP team. His praises of Ross Brawn on race day, sadly reminded me of Madeleine Albright years ago, stepping in front of the cameras and defending her President against rumors of his infidelities.

    Thankfully, Ross Brawn remained Ross Brawn.

  35. Alan G says:

    James,

    On Autosport they are reporting that Tony Fernandes has accepted Richard Branson’s challenge of the lowest finishing ‘airline’ team boss dressing up and serving as a stewardess on one of the other’s airline flights.

    If you were on that plane who would you rather have lol.

  36. F1ART says:

    Nick Worth was also involved in Simtek Grand Prix, the F1 racing team. they competed in the 1994 and 1995 seasons achieving a best ever result of ninth place. With large debts and a lack of sponsorship money, Simtek went into voluntary liquidation in June 1995

  37. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

    Virgin seem to be the new team with the most potential on the grid. Wirth is a serious engineering talent, and they will have no problem attracting even more sponsorship in the future with the Virgin association. It also says a lot that Timo Glock, who is a quality F1 driver and a smart man, would chose them over an existing team (Renault).

    I think Wirth is very wise to stick with an exclusively CFD design strategy. CFD technology is spectacular and will only improve with time, and it’s clearly the future. James, correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, McLaren made basically all of their development gains this year using CFD rather than the wind tunnel.

  38. Paul Kirk says:

    Hay, I have the greatest respect for the female of our species, especially if they project femininity, and I agree that women’s sports should be encouraged, but I also believe there is MEN’s sports, and WOMEN’s sports, and I see nothing but trouble when a woman attempts to be equal to men by taking them on in a MAN’s sport!!!!!Just look at the trouble and resentment caused globaly by the Women’s Liberation moovement to the work force! I’ve raced cars, boats, and motorcycles, and my doughter raced Karts, and I’ve studied and supported and been involved in various forms of motor sports, (and other sports like tenis and boxing) for 55 years, and in all that time I’ve never seen or heard of a female being able to aproach a male’s competitive and athletic and sporting ability! So I’m bloody sure it will never happen in F1! And as for Danica Patrick, please NOOOO!
    Respectfully
    P.K.

  39. Stu says:

    Isn’t old Branson a wiley old fox?! He’s got himself a total bargain…

    However I don’t want to see him in a stewardess outfit so he better beat Lotus!

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