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Awkward moment for Virgin Racing over fuel tank request
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Awkward moment for Virgin Racing over fuel tank request
Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Mar 2010   |  9:03 am GMT  |  42 comments

Virgin Racing’s initiation to F1 took an embarrassing turn this weekend as it was forced to request a dispensation to homologate a new chassis to allow for a larger fuel tank. It appears that the one the car was designed around is not big enough to allow the car to finish a Grand Prix.

“It has become clear during pre-season testing and our debut race in Bahrain that our fuel tank capacity is marginal, ” said Virgin technical director Nick Wirth, ” And if not addressed there is the possibility that fuel pick-up could become an issue in certain circumstances,”

As a new team Virgin did not have any old data to work with and would rely on figures given to them by Cosworth. The penalty for making a tank which is a bit too big isn’t great in terms of lap time, but making one too small is a massive problem.

Virgin has been granted the dispensation by the FIA, but some teams are unhappy about the precedent it sets. It is likely to take the team until the start of the European season before the team can get a new chassis built. The new chassis is likely to be longer and the top bodywork will all need to be re-optimised for aerodynamics.

In the meantime, the team will have to run the engine lean to be sure of making it to the finish of the intervening races.

It is strange that this should have happened. The fuel cells are an outsourced component and are produced for the team by a company called Premier. Most F1 teams use cells from ATL. Teams request cells of different sizes depending on their fuel consumption figures, but Cosworth, which powers Virgin as well as three other teams, will have been very specific with all its customers about the fuel required by its engine.

The fuel cells cost around £15,000 each and a team will typically order four at the start of the season. That cost will be dwarfed by the cost of designing and building a new chassis. It is a huge amount of work, not only is it a monocoque but a new floor, bodywork, wiring looms, hydraulics. The error must be in the region of 20 litres to make it worth going to that effort.

Rival teams will be anxious to ensure that Virgin does not build in any development steps to the chassis.

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42 Comments
  1. F1 Kitteh says:

    Yes strange that it happened especially since they don’t look like they will finish a race anyway, but I guess homologating a new monocoque brings a little side benefit of being able to add holes for a f-duct?

  2. alex m says:

    Do the other Teams not have to agree for this to be allowed ? I was also wondering how come Renault are allowed to “equalise” their engine when I thought it had to be agreed ?

    Although I am very happy to say the Todt era is looking good, I cannot help noticing that most of the new appointments have been French, like the new boss. Is the FIA experiencing an ongoing Galliciastion and are Renault going to benefit from some subtle help from them I wonder.

    Would answering that truthfully possibly affect your Pass allocation ? Max used to blatantly try to exert control over Journalists, to make sure all were “on side”, is there any sign that this era of influence and control is well and truly over ?

    1. James Allen says:

      That is overplayed by people who didn’t come to races. It’s fair to say that there are some French appointments, but look at Todt’s senior management team; an Englishman, an American and a Kiwi – all Anglo Saxons…

    2. Bart Garbiak says:

      Renault made the changes in the engine during the winter period. They don’t have to ask other teams to do that.
      Besides, Renault didn’t “equalize” their engine. They introduced reliability and cost improvements. Other teams do it the same way.

      1. Satish says:

        They don’t need the other teams’ permission, but if I’m not wrong, details of the proposed changes are shared with all other teams by the FIA.

    3. GP says:

      Poor Todt. First, he’s accused of a Ferrari bias, and now French teams are allowed to break the rules. How about waiting for some facts, you know, like being caught on video with your pants around your ankles. We could also ask Ron Dennis if nationality gives you special privileges.

      1. alex m says:

        I seem to recall, without looking it up, that since Todt was elected, he has promoted 4 people to senior positions, 3 of whom I believe are French, I am not referring to those he inherited and has not changed.

  3. Andrew Myers says:

    One step at a time guys. Concentrate on making the start line before you worry about whether you will finish or not!

  4. chris green says:

    Think I’ve heard enough about the wonders of CFD.
    Nick deserves a slap on the hand.

    1. gaz909 says:

      I’m not sure if a wind tunnel would have solved a fuel tank capacity issue?

    2. Andrew Myers says:

      Designed in a vacuum instead of a wind tunnel? ;-)

    3. Chris, in Virgin’s defense (any opportunity to defend a Virgin), I’m not sure that the lack of wind-tunnel running would have identified this problem.

      The team reported during testing that the car was performing as expected, so you have to assume that they’re not experiencing more drag (and hence higher fuel consumption) than when it came off CFD.

  5. Hingo says:

    To introduce an F duct when the dispensation was to allow for a new fuel tank surely wouldn’t be allowed?

    1. Banjo says:

      I wouldn’t have thought they’d waste the time and resources on developing a F-duct system when their are much more fundamental areas of the car which need developing more urgently!

  6. Ben G says:

    Sounds like someone got their sums badly wrong. Perhaps with the CFD they underestimated the car’s aerodynamic efficiency?

  7. Nico says:

    Nice work on TV today James. Is Murray in Melbourne? I was disappointed not to see him join you on One.

    1. James Allen says:

      No he’s not here.

  8. Robert McKay says:

    The main rule change literally everyone knew of for F1 2010 was no refuelling during races, so as mistakes go its a bit of a clanger.

    If you’ve no prevous data you go conservative and build in some extra capacity, which as you say James is a much smaller penalty.

    It’s getting up there with turning up at a race having forgotten to put an engine in the back. The new teams have got enough to deal with from the naysayers on reliability and pace without adding anything to that mix…

    1. Kedar says:

      I agree, especially since all the new teams keep saying that they aim to finish races one would expect them to build a fuel tank that would hold enough fuel till the end of the race and any detours on the grass!

  9. Stevie P says:

    Whoops!! CFD = Cosworth Fuel Drain? Cannot Find Drawings? Complete Flippin’ Dumbasses?

    I’m struggling to understand how the other Cosworth runners haven’t had this issue… is the data consistent across all Cossie runners? Probably not, as bodywork, shape of the car, aero etc, etc… will all affect it??

    Are we about to see the first “cut and shut” car in F1! ;-) Haven’t Toyota got some fuel cells knocking about that they could sell off?

  10. Frankie Allen says:

    As with all the other “problems” Virgin have had, nothing but a bunch of cowboys. Is there one engineer shoe horned into that team?

    1. There’s the core of a F3 team – Manor Racing – in Virgin, so there are probably as many engineers there as there are at, say, Lotus. Almost certainly a lot more than at Hispania…

      1. Frankie Allen says:

        As with NASA, but run by people who will always be spreading astronauts across the middle states. No real issues with Lotus and Hispania, but anyone not taking care of the basics with that level of resources needs adjustment.

  11. David Jerromes says:

    Many a red-faced virgin have found size to be a problem…., however this is very embarrassing for Wirth & Virgin.

    I bet Branson is glad his F1 team’s designers didn’t spec of his ‘fuel’ tanks on his hot air balloons….

    Hopefully this virgin’s chassis will swallow the bigger fuel tank with ease!!

    Most strange that this happened, me thinks there is more than meets the eye to this request for a new chassis homologation….

    1. Kedar says:

      This Virgin surely cant go all the way :)

  12. Pierre says:

    Strange they made that mistake and Lotus did not (we do not know about HSR who knows?), 20 liters is huge.
    Any relation to CFD or just a mistake James?
    It means they are about 1,5 s more off to the pace!

  13. Satish says:

    Doubt the FIA would allow an F-duct to be incorporated, but then again I guess Virgin needs a lot more than the 4/10ths advantage an F-duct would give em.

  14. James, rather than running lean and not pushing, would Virgin not be better off just going for it so they can at least show everyone what they’re capable of and test their reliability in race conditions?

    Early indications suggest that they may not make it to the end of a race anyway. They can avoid embarrassingly and potentially dangerous running out of fuel on the track by retiring a lap or two before that happens (assuming they make it that far).

    OK, so if they cruise to the finish there’s a chance that all the front runners take each other off or have a “failed spark plug” and Virgin will get some points. Realistically that’s highly unlikely.

    Are there more benefits to actually going the full race distance and finishing 20th than showing fans, sponsors, investors, etc., what you’re capable of?

  15. bones says:

    It amazes me how these ppl were allowed to enter this year,when I say theses ppl I mean the new teams,all of them and do not forget that FIA gave UsF1 the green light to run this year a couple of months ahead.
    Todt has a big job ahead in order to regain the prestige an credibility of F1,sponsors are paying huge amounts of money .

  16. Lee Gilbert says:

    Hmmm – I will be interested to see if other teams have this or a similar fuel related problem this weekend or in Malaysia.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see another team have to rethink their fuel requirements

    In Bahrain, Ferrari definitely had issues with fuel (running the mix richer to reduce temperatures and therefore burning more fuel). Their problem does not seem to be tank capacity, more general heat issues that have a knock on effect into fuel consumption, which in previous years could have been dealt with by putting more fuel in at the stops

    It was also revealing to hear Ron Dennis suggest that the Red Bull of Vettel did not have a spark plug issue. Whether Ron was looking for the headlines or had some insight is tough to say. But it is conceivable that the Red Bull had its engine turned down (reducing cylinders in use – and you cannot hide the sound of that with a fuel mix excuse) to help it get to the end of the race. Mark Webber stranded in traffic would have been able to easily run lean if indeed their is a problem with the Red Bull

    If we get Safety Cars this weekend (almost certain) it may not be obvious in Melbourne if other teams have fuel related issues

    Either way, the last of the mistakes due to the fuel reg changes has not been seen…

    1. Tim says:

      Ron Dennis’ comments reveal nothing much at all. If Vettel’s Red Bull was marginal on fuel then by far the simplest and most effective way of reducing consumption is by reducing engine revs, not cutting out a single cylinder.

      Webber’s pace throughout the race was rarely much slower than Vettel’s, despite the traffic. Another driver who spent much of his race close behind a rival was Felipe Massa – who overheated behind Alonso and had to run richer, not leaner, as you mentioned above. Why does Massa running behind another car cause him to richen the fuel mixture, but Webber doing likewise have the opposite effect?

      Alternatively, Ron Dennis has the inside scoop because a McLaren company supplies the standard ECU to all team – and if he has got access to data from another team’s ECU because of this then he should probably have kept his mouth shut. The last thing we need is another scandal involving McLaren cheating.

      1. Ryan Eckford says:

        Ron is not involved anymore with the McLaren F1 Team, he is involved with McLaren Automotive.

      2. Tim says:

        True, but another McLaren company (not the F1 team – there are several companies in the McLaren group) supplies the standard ECU to all of the F1 teams.

  17. Stu says:

    Uber embarrassing but I’m glad some people here have the nounce to realise it’s not due to how the car was designed…

  18. Red5 says:

    Drivers are able to adjust some engine parameters (pre-set maps) using various dials on the steering wheel. I have read somewhere that this can increase or decrease output by upto 3%, which on a 700bhp engine equates to 20 horses.

    I would have thought there will be a cut-off point at which the benefit of running lighter will be balanced by the reduced engine output. Since the Renault is one of the most fuel efficient engines on the grid does that mean it can run richer and potentially produce more power?
    Certainly looks like Virgin have miscalculated the size of fuel cell required. Is it also possible that Cosworth overestimated either the engines power output or exaggerated their fuel consumption?

    I am interested to know how much the cars aero-efficiency affects fuel consumption over a 58 lap/305 km race such as Melbourne.

  19. Young Slinger says:

    This is Virgin on the ridiculous!

  20. Andy C says:

    Firstly, I am very much enjoying everyones jokes about a virgin not going all the way! Very funny.

    James,
    I am assuming that the fia would have looked at telemetry and volumetric calcs to see whether there was substance to this?

    I can’t help but think it’s a big of a coincidence that they need a longer body, oh yes and a new floor ANC amended aero. I can’t help but be slightly sceptical on this

    1. Ahlapski says:

      Yes, I utterly agreed. A new floor and all that would mean improved features can be designed into a new chassis.

      I understand that the design of their chassis was frozen; 3 out of 4 parameters have been change. Yes it is inevitable that calculations are not going to be accurate.

      What I don’t get is that if they knew there are potential problems, why do they not raise the point earlier.

      It would be obvious after they analyze the data after testing….

  21. pao says:

    So scored on the doors so far this season by my reckoning are:

    Mike Gasgoyne 3 Nick Wirth 0

    That’s based on 2 cars home in the first race and demonstrating that the fuel tank is big enough.

  22. Paul Kirk says:

    It’s obvious that many people who view this site are knowledgable re F1 technicallities and one thing I’ve noticed is many think more drag equates to higher fuel consumption. I agree this would be the case if we were compareing two cars on the motorway doing the same speed, obviously the high-drag car would use more fuel to maintain the same speed for the same distance. But I dunno about an F1 car, I mean they’re all using full throttle as often as they can, but the h/drag car would be slower down the straights, you could argue that if it’s slower then it will spend more time at full throttle, but you could also argue that because aerodynamics are not optimised the driver would brake earlier, go slower around the corner, and achieve full throttle later out of the corners thereby reducing the length of time at full throttle, (when most fuel is consumed). I dunno what to think, but I wouldn’t be surprised if h/drag cars only use the same amount as the low/drag cars throughout the course of a race!
    PK.

  23. rpaco says:

    Well no one knew the actual “in race” consumption on a new car with a new engine, although it was modeled there are so many variables that it’s almost impossible to pick the right levels of everything to put in the simulation beforehand. However someone must have been quite a lot out in their figures, because they must have thought that they had spare capacity in the fuel bladder, no one would have gone ahead if they thought it doubtful. So, major workload, which must encompass all the points James listed. Some guy will be saying “See! I told you it wouldn’t be big enough, but you wouldn’t listen!

  24. Forza_Italia says:

    If I remember correctly, Jarno Trulli did run out of fuel after the end of the last GP – and he was driving a Lotus. So there could be the same problem for this team, too. Let’s see what happens ;-).

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