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A personal review of the year – Virgin Racing
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A personal review of the year – Virgin Racing
Posted By: James Allen  |  31 Dec 2010   |  11:51 am GMT  |  46 comments

Virgin Racing, 0 wins, 0 poles, 12th in Constructors’ Championship

If Lotus’ first season on track turned out more or less how they expected it to, Virgin’s fell below their expectations for a variety of reasons. First they were caught out by a couple of changes in fuel regulations which meant that the fuel tank wasn’t quite big enough to do the race distance. They were given dispensation to change the chassis – something which is expressly banned nowadays for cost saving reasons.

Reliability was worse than expected, due to a range of problems, of which hydraulics was the main culprit. There were 17 retirements out of a possible 38 car finishes, of which only three were accidents.


These two things had a knock on effect on performance, meaning that the team couldn’t develop the car until mid season and although the original car was faster than the Lotus, the updated one struggled to beat it. Glock managed to qualify ahead of the Lotus cars just five times, including the first race.

They would also not have expected to finish plum last in the championship, but Hispania managed a couple of 15th places, which took them ahead despite having a much slower car.

Technical director Nick Wirth has taken the bold step of using only the computer simulation tool CFD to develop the aerodynamics, with no reference to a wind tunnel. He believes that the developments his team carried out this year vindicate that decision. But significantly more downforce is necessary to get this car into a position to challenge the likes of Toro Rosso.

The team has been very open and friendly and I had several opportunities to go behind the scenes and see what they were up to. They want to become part of the fabric of F1 and believe that there is a place for a team like theirs in the field.

Far from being based all under one roof, like most teams, VR is based on a three way partnership between Manor Motorsport, which runs the cars, Wirth Research, which designs them and Virgin which handles all the commercials. The three sides come together at races. There are some good people in the team who know what they are doing and next year should see a step up on the operational and technical side.


On the driving side, Glock handled the come down from competing for podiums with Toyota to battling for 17th place very well. He was very fast most of the time and raced well. He was on a roll in Korea heading for 12th place at least until he was taken out by Sebastien Buemi in a crass move, which wrecked Virgin’s chances of finishing 10th in the Constructors’ table. Lucas di Grassi is one of the nicest and most eloquent drivers, but ultimately he didn’t have the pace to match Glock, although at times he wasn’t using the same equipment. He has been replaced for next year by Jerome D’Ambrosio.

Photos: Darren Heath

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46 Comments
  1. Yeah! VR’s my kind of team! Really cool stuff. It was a shame they couldn’t unlock all the potential in 2010 but I think with lessons learned this year they’ll come back stronger in 2011. CFD approach is SO exciting; they’ve got the budget and determination, a good driver line-up, no problems in the name department… Timmo or Jerommo are bound to score at least a coupla points next season.

    1. Stefanos says:

      They lost to HRT and that says rather a lot… Getting the fuel cell capacity wrong is one of the most embarassing blunders in F1 history. Not being able to get their hydraulics to work for half the season is probably also up there. I think that James is being rather kind to them!
      As far as the full-CFD approach goes, I see no merit. Simulations are only an approximation – nothing can replace hard data, either for testing, or validation. Most F1 teams spend more on CFD than Virgin and also use a tunnel. I don’t think that any of them are likely to adopt the Virgin approach anytime soon.

      1. Well, the idea was to learn in 2010 and come back stronger in 2011. Give them some time. I never read glorious statements from Virgin Racing about finishing P15 in the Fernandes style and it shows MVR are more realistic about their achievements in F1.

        Recently Pat Symonds said we would have to wait a bit to see the results of Nick Wirth’s work. CFD is not something totally new, 100% CFD-designed cars were successful in other categories so there’s no reason why the technology can’t win in F1.

        I say, let’s wait and see; with F1 you never know.

      2. Stephen says:

        Not exactly fair to blame Virgin for the hydraulic problems as they buy the system in.

        The reasons I’ve seen for the problem with the fuel cell also seem valid. You could say they should have gone conservative but the point of F1 is to push the limits and when a specification changes at short notice you can get caught out.

      3. Stefanos says:

        Many teams buy their hydraulic systems from external vendors and, with few exceptions, manage to install them in good working order. Most other teams also push the envelope in most areas of car design, as is the spirit of F1. They all get things wrong, from time to time, but the fuel cell blunder is unheard of. They are amateurs that hope that by being different they will beat the others at their own game. The trouble is, they don’t really know what the game is.
        As per the comment above, we will wait and see. I’d just rather they first learnt how to go racing in lower formulae and then graduated to F1. Imagine a team of amateurs and beginners who kick a ball once a week aftwe work, joining the premier league next season…

      4. Stephen says:

        (Not sure why I can’t reply to Stefanos directly…)

        Manor, who run the Virgin cars, have quite a good track record in the lower formulae. Nick Wirth has F1 history, albeit not that successful outside a large team.

        The main problem as I see it is that there isn’t muc in the way of lower formulae where teams design their own cars to get this experience. Most, especially the higher-end ones are common chassis to keep costs down and a level playing field.

        Lotus did the sensible thing of hiring an experienced F1 designer. Hispania contracted an experienced constructor to design their car. Virgin started with pretty much no recent F1 experience and to be on terms with the two teams who ‘bought in’ that experience I think is worthy of some praise. The fuel cell issue is similar to the old leaves on the line problem in that it is easy to make a joke from it but very few people bother to look in to the reasons behind it and appreciate them.

        I don’t know enough about hydraulics to comment but I know from history a lot of large teams have struggled and that also trying to get a system you have bought in working with your equipment isn’t always that easy.

        Maybe there is scope for an ‘open’ forumla at F2 / GP2 level where budding F1 constructors can get experience but until that arrives there will always be a couple of seasons of learning for new teams. At least in football there is a league structure where you can step up gradually.

  2. NufcDazzla84 says:

    Great Article

    For me, the 12th place in the constructors championship is a bit of a false position for VR, they clearly had a better car than HRT in terms of outright performance and like you say, if it wer’nt for some stupidity on Buemi’s part, they could have challenged Lotus for that top 10 spot.

    With the new investment coming in from Marussia and a year’s experience under their belts, I think they will be able to push on with Team Lotus and start challenging the Toro Rosso’s for points and a top 9 constructors placing.

    Infact i’ll stick my neck out and say that both Team Lotus AND Virgin will finish ahead of Toro Rosso in 2011

  3. jmv says:

    I heard Nick Wirth saying somewhere in an interview.. perhaps BBC about the amount of seconds they have been able to develop the car over the season since it hit the track…

    and it sounded impressive.. could you give us more on that, James?

    That figure made the claim of Virtual CFD as competitive development method, sound more than reasonable.

    Also as they run the cars at the track data collection by becomes paramount for feeding back into the CFD machines at NW research? Have they been able to improve practices there?

    Did Nick Wirth see differences from sportscar racing versus F1 in this respect? Any surprises there?

    I guess food for an interview with Mr. Wirth.

    Thanks!! Best (and most unbiased!) site on F1

    1. Gareth D says:

      If you’re on about JS’ blog – then remember his web site is a BLOG – personal web site with personal views in other words.

    2. Martin says:

      In terms of validating CFD results directly on the track rather than also using a wind tunnel, it is really about confidence in the models being used and the quality of the sensors used for the measurements in tunnel and on the track.

      If a team brings new and old bits to the track you could look at lap times. But is that over one lap, over many laps, with one driver or across both? The drivers are usually quite sensitive to changes, but two can disagree (McLaren at Monza, Red Bull at Silverstone). The evolution of the track needs to be factored in too.

      The cars have load sensors that provide performance (and safety) data. These devices do not have infinite repeatability (i.e. measure the same thing many times and always get precisely the same measurement) so the team needs to be confident in its data collection. This includes air pressure and wind velocity factors.

      As I understand it, the primary problem with CFD for F1 cars is that relative to an aircraft it is a highly complex shape and by running so close to an uneven surface, it takes a lot of computational effort to validate the model. The behaviour of the tyres is particularly complex as they deflect under load and as the front tyres are turned. This latter problem is equally an issue for the wind tunnel, but if the wind tunnel tyre model is right then it is always right, while the CFD program has to do the calculations every time anyway.

      My guess as to your question on what Wirth saw as the differences between sports cars and F1 would be that simply the level of competition is higher as F1 is the best resourced formula and the most aerodynamically dependent.

      Cheers,

      Martin

      1. jmv says:

        thanks! great insight! indeed in sportscar racing the CFD development (in the absence of more expensive “windtunneling”) methods may indeed look more competitive.

        this comes back to Newey’s view that in F1 (and I guess because of F1 higher resourcing and therefore access to a wider range of available development methods incl. windtunnels) CFD alone won’t do the job.

      2. Stephen says:

        That’s raised an intesting point, how will CFD cope with the change to Pirelli tyres? Presumably tyre movement, grip, deflection etc will change and that will affect the results.

        I don’t know how much physical simulation can detect these changes though – it may be that CFD will allow the data collected during the first tests / races to be fed back quicker in to the design and setup of the car.

      3. Martin says:

        Hi Stephen,

        I’ll try to give you an idea based on what McLaren and Renault did in 2007 as part of the switch to Bridgestone tyres. I’m going off what was reported in the Autocourse in the teams summaries.

        Renualt had a wind tunnel calibration issue from some point in 2006 to mid 2007 that compounded its problems with the tyre change. Pat Symons: We use pneumatic tyres in the wind tunnel as scale models of the proper tyres. Th construction of the tyre is such that, when scale loads are applied, it deflects to the same shape as the real tyre under the scale loads. They are immensely sophisticated little things.
        “The representation that the Bridgestone model [I presume made by Renault] gave in terms of shape, when loaded, was not a precise replication of the real thing. It deflected differently. You can get very critical aerodynamics where they switch between states. If you can imagine a bit of flow that attaches and detaches repeatedly: it’s unstable.

        You may recall Kovalainen falling off the road a bit in early 2007.

        Now to McLaren, and Alan Henry’s words, not a McLaren engineer:

        “The construction and profile of the Bridgestone tyres had a strong influence on the MP-22′s chassis dynamics and, significantly, the aerodynamics. the tyres affect the flow structures downstream of the front wheels and the team’s engineers used CFD software – to simulate heat and fluid flow – to devise the optimum solution to harness the new rubber.”

        Renault opened a CFD centre (not necessarily its first) in 2008, so it may not have had the expertise to do what McLaren did in 2007 even if it wanted to.

        The teams will get data from Pirelli on the construction of the tyre. By using CFD you have a greatly reduced risk of making an invalid model as there are no physical process limitation in software, unlike building a rubber tyre that is to the appropriate scale of the real thing.

        If you then put the parts developed using CFD in the tunnel and you get an answer you don’t expect, then it gets interesting.

        Cheers,

        Martin

  4. melonfarmer says:

    As a finite element analysis engineer, I am pleased to see an all cfd simulation approach – once they get it working 100% it will make the 24/7 wind tunnel operation approach from a few years ago look like a massive waste of money (a.k.a F1 as a whole). Am also pleased to see Nick Wirth back as a (part) owner – he was helpful to me as a student in the Simtek days. Not sure Marussia are going to move them forward, but good luck to them anyway.

    1. Brent McMaster says:

      I’m not an engineer, so you have confirmed my thinking on CFD design. I have preached to all in my F1 circle that once they had the data from the car over a year, designs will become more accurate. Time will tell.

    2. Murray says:

      Agreed. In the mirrors, F1 is littered with naysayers who’ve pooh-poohed everything from rear-engined cars to radial racing tyres. Even if CFD-only cars don’t eventually display outright aero superiority, they are inevitably going to be cheaper for the same performance, and provide information far more conveniently. Those are technical and efficiency advantages that can’t be ignored, and I hope Wirth and Virgin are in a position to earn the rewards for their bravery and evangelism. It’d be nice to see their administrative model show the old boys a thing or two, as well.

  5. Paul H says:

    James, what are the differences in cost of CFD and using wind tunnel? Often hear that CFD is much cheaper, but do you have any figures or percentages?

    I believe all the new teams were always going to receive a hard time for lack of pace this season with the lack of testing allowed to previous new teams. I believe that VR were on a par with Lotus in terms of aerodynamics, let down by a combination of poor hydraulics and less experienced driver line up. Yes, the small capacity fuel tank was amusing, but as James alludes to rule changes I’ll let them off, especially as they dealt with it in an honest and open way.

    My concern is for next season I think (could likely be wrong) they will be the only team with the Xtrac gearbox (why have these been so terrible considering how well they have done in other race series?). A season of data to add into the CFD computations will help but with the tie up’s the other new teams have made, could this see VR suffer?

  6. Toti says:

    I do not wish to be too contraversial but the things that stick out im my mind with Virgin was how Branson chose to handle the fuel tank saga belttling Nick Wirth publicly and forcing him to take responsibility. I do not see a top team being so demeaning. Especially when the approach was so different and in tipical Branson fashion done on a shoe string.

  7. James D says:

    I think Virgin were a bit under-rated this season. They (well, Glock) was often close to Lotus’ pace and sometimes ahead so I think they deserve more credit despite their reliability problems.

  8. jonrob says:

    CFD could become more effective as the aero rules change/simplfy and the downforce is mainly body/ground effect based.
    The use of CFD only saved vast amounts of money for Virgin.
    It is unclear now if the RRA actually has any effect at all on any but the new 3 teams. But then even Lotus are building a new wind tunnel in the UK.
    Have Virgin actually committed any money for next season or will the team have a new sponsor. I remember Mr Branson saying that he was not investing money, but “Putting his brand in” instead.

    1. Martin says:

      I believe the model is closer to how Target sponsor Ganassi in the US. Suppliers to Virgin, or companies interested in information that Virgin has put money into the team. So by buying Virgin products or services you benefit the people putting the money in.

  9. rvd says:

    I think Virgin did fairly well under the circumstances. Their biggest problem is Branson, what a cheapskate. As we say say in Texas ” He’s all hat and no cattle”. There’s no racing in his blood.

    1. Andy C says:

      I love the Texan saying. And fairly apt in my opinion…

      He’s in F1 for marketing, not to do well in races.

    2. Brandon says:

      Texas has funny says for a state that elected a “cowboy” governor

      1. Zobra Wambleska says:

        Yes, talk about all hat and no cattle.

      2. rvd says:

        Don’t be too harsh, at least he gave the USGP 25 million.

  10. Azlas says:

    For a virgin they handled themselves pretty well against experienced opposition. Next year will be interesting.

  11. Kat says:

    Hmmm… Timo Glock held the 12th place in Korea only because he hadn’t yet pitted to change the tyres. He had Buemi, Kobayashi, Button and Heidfeld lined up just behind him, all faster than Glock’s Virgin, and they had already made their pit stops. So Glock was never going to keep that position, even if he managed to avoid the crash with Buemi.

    Virgin Racing showed some great fighting spirit in 2010, just like Lotus Racing. I look forward to see how these two teams start challenging the established teams next year.

    1. very interesting point about him not pitted yet, its funny how things can be worded sometimes :)

      Matt

    2. devilsadvocate says:

      wet race… no obligatory tire stops, if he could have nursed them to the end he wouldnt have had to change

  12. Tony says:

    I wonder if the computer plus testing would be a more effective way of developing the car than pc plus wind tunnel. How many times has a badly calibrated wind tunnel thrown a spanner in the works?
    You know there should be say three non championship races in the year ideal for trying aero parts , new drivers etc. Call it paid for testing.

    1. Andy C says:

      Exactly. Rubens at Williams was given credit for his role in translating wind tunnel results to workable track results for Williams in the tech area.

      I like that they’ve tried something innovative and different. Clearly if they did the traditional route their budget would not be anywhere near enough.

      As with all of the new teams, I’ll judge them half way through year 2. It cant be easy to build a car from scratch in the time they had.

    2. Martin says:

      I guess one thing that could be checked is whether all the teams used their full allocation of straight line testing.

    3. unoc says:

      YOu’d have to make the races compulsary otherwise those short on budget wouldn’t show. Why would HRT go if they are just running the same car anyway? Probably be worse for them, so they wouldn’t go and shouldn’t.

      People just need to accept that unless there are massive budget limits then f1 will be determined greatly by budgets. I don’t like limits so I’m fine with how it is.

      Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and RBR, Renault all near the top able to win races or atleast throw spanners into the works potentially.

      Willams, Sauber, FI fighting with each other, occasionally being able to rival the top guys at a special track.

      TR being the drop kick at the back

      HRT out?

      Virgin and Lotus will be seen later.

      An interesting point though is that Ferrari own a track for them to test own. Red Bull have bought and and renevating the track formely known as A1. McLaren seems to be well loved in england (home to many a track), seems that if track testing was allowed, atleast the top teams wouldn’t find it hard to get hold of one to test.

      Maybe the best scenario isn’t the best one. Maybe the best case is that those who can test can test and those who can’t can’t. Then we will have those gunning for the WCC and WDC doing it properly with money (as long as there is more than 2 teams.. that would be boring), and then everyone else.

      Maybe at the end of the year (and this is open to criticism), not only is money awarded to ferrari as well as for the places, but a big chunk is also given to the best team not to use track testing. Sort of a ‘clean green fighting machine’ award. That would make it more interesting in the midfield than it is currently, would promote something green, would still have the competition with a big insentive and would would help smaller teams. Big teams can still go mad at the front though and fight for full right and honours.

      In short, allow track testing. Give a chunk of money to the highest ranked team who didn’t use any track time as a ‘clean green’ award.

      So whaat do you think?

      James, readers of this blog?

  13. Neil says:

    Interesting to see that 100% CFD was OK. Before the season it was being knocked left, right, and center by “those who knew”. Including on this site. (I stayed stum, not having a clue about CFD in F1!)

    Clearly it’s produced a car that is there or there-abouts the same as the Lotus, which is the only resonable yardstick.

    Interesting to see how this develops now they have more data. And interesting to see if it gives them an in-season advantage on upgrades.

    Neil.

  14. F1-Tips says:

    Classic Branson – Put in as little as possible and make sure you take as much credit as you can. Disgusting, especially as someone’s already mentioned with publicly slamming Wirth. Wouldn’t work with him in a million years.

  15. Ryan Eckford says:

    2010 for Virgin was a trying year right from the start with the fuel tank issue, but they tried their best and their position in the Constructors Championship doesn’t reflect that they were faster than HRT consistantly.

    The categories that I measured the 2010 cars in include:
    Car Driveability, All Round Car Ability, Low Downforce Circuits, Medium Downforce Circuits, High Downforce Circuits, High Speed Circuits, Medium Speed Circuits and Low Speed Circuits.

    The categories in order of strength for the VR-01 are:
    1. High Downforce Circuits(10th)
    2. Low Speed Circuits(10th)
    3. Medium Speed Circuits(11th)
    4. Medium Downforce Circuits(11th)
    5. All Round Car Ability(11th)
    T6. Low Downforce Circuits(11th)
    T6. High Speed Circuits(11th)
    8. Car Driveability(11th)

    Glock drove very well in often trying circumstances, while di Grassi didn’t really impress and his crash on the reconnaissance lap at 130R in Japan was a sure fire way to getting himself sacked. Overall, a solid first year for the team. I think they will probably be on the back of the established teams at some point in 2011.

  16. Rich C says:

    I don’t ‘get’ why so many of you seem to be down on Branson. The man’s a self-made multiple-billionaire, with a huge network of globe-spanning companies in an amazing number of fields. He’ll apparently try most anything if it looks profitable. He doesn’t *have to know everything about every business – just how to hire good people and market things. The guy is practically a marketing genius. He gives to numerous charities, personally funded some “green” prize.
    Maybe he’s too flamboyant for you? Maybe he’s too rich for you? Maybe he’s too smart for you? Maybe he’s not a ‘traditional’ enough Brit businessman for you?
    I dunno, but go read his entry on wikipedia and then when *your’s is a quarter as impressive then *maybe you can down-your-nose at him.
    [mod]

    1. Murray says:

      Yup, it does seem that Mateschitz’s buckets of money are fine because they’re dispensed through a feudal hierarchy, but Branson himself asking for value-for-money on his own behalf is somehow disreputable in some peoples’ opinions. I wonder how that would change if Virgin gets within striking distance of the championships?

  17. Toti says:

    Just ask Jensen Button what kind of man Branson is.

  18. Mark V. says:

    I love Virgin’s philosophy. Run the team and grab attention as cheaply as possible. Try something no other team has ever tried, designing and testing a car completely using CFD.

    I especially love how this approach upsets people. OLD FARTS. ALL OF THEM. They can’t be true F1 fans if they don’t applaud someone’s huevos by putting all their eggs in a new, relatively unproven technology’s basket.

    But isn’t that F1 at it’s core? Experimentation? Risk taking? Last year Virgin had only 6 months to design a car from scratch relying completely on a method that others either did not trust or didn’t have the balls to trust. Come 2011 they will come out with a car that has had far more lead time and far more experience with this radical new system put in to it. I’m hoping it’s a rocket, if only because I HATE tradition, especially in a field that is supposedly based on breaking tradition every year for the sake of speed.

    1. Chapor says:

      Truer words have never been spoken. I wholeheartedly agree.

  19. Mike says:

    Quite a testing season for all the new teams, I think the makeup of the team is quite unusual at Virgin, with Manor running the operatons, Wirth suppling the car and Virgin wrapping up the “brand”. I suspect all is not at rosy as it may appear from the outside.

    With regards to the CFD aspect of the car – whilst I agree that a wind tunnel for every team is a vast waste of cash – the CFD needs to be validated in as close to the real world as possible.

    Personally I think the team will survive till the end of 2012 season – after that I’d say it’s very uncertain. I expect them to be backmarkers again and don’t expect Virgin to stay on as a sponsor after that.

    Lotus went about things the right way in 2010 and I expect them to drive well into the distance next year leaving Virgin and HRT to battle it out between them. Even HRT are sorting out the Hydraulics next year.

    Virgin seem to be the only one of the new teams not making any changes other than a new driver. I expect the car and reliability to be a slight improvement on this year’s effort but I think the other teams Virgin might be hoping to Challenge will have the jump on them from the off.

    Looking forward to the 2011 season

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    And all the others that I’m inadvertently missing!! :-D

  21. Alan Dove says:

    It’s nigh-on-impossible to judge Di Grassi’s performance as there are no comparisons to be made. Especially in a new team, naturally Glock would be getting more support, as James alluded too.

    And once again, financially speaking, it’s next to impossible to race if you are also trying to raise funds to outbid rival drivers.

    I wouldn’t be too harsh on Lucas. He’s a decent driver.

  22. Paul Kirk says:

    I really enjoy keeping up to date with what’s happening with all the new teams for a number of reasons, but especially because it introduces a variety into F1 that has been lacking. One tends to get tired of McLaren and Ferrari being always in the news. The other thing I really like is budget teams having success in the face of the big spenders! This attitude (of mine) also applies to every other class of motorsport from karting through to F1 and probably stems from the fact I was a budget racer myself, and I’m sure there’s many other followers of the sport with a similar atitude. Incidently, does anybody know where we can find out more specific details of the hydraulic problems the new teams suffered from during the early part of the season? I’d like to see Virgin have some success especially because of their unique approach (dedicated to CFD) to design and aerodynamics. Montizemolo pisses me off when he go’s on about “teams should heve 3 cars” and “there should be no new teams”. Of course there should be new teams, and they should be encouraged and supported! I seem to recall that old Enso didn’t start at the top!
    PK.

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