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Virgin moves show Marussia’s statement of intent to move up the grid
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Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Jul 2011   |  10:29 am GMT  |  53 comments

The Virgin Racing team, now controlled by Russian car company Marussia and its billionaire investor Andrey Cheglakov, has made a significant move as it attempts to split with the rather chaotic structure of the last 18 months and form itself into a proper F1 team.

Last month the team dispensed with technical director Nick Wirth and now it has acquired his company at the same time as striking a technical partnership deal with McLaren to use its wind tunnel, simulator and other facilities.

At this stage the deal is not as extensive as Force India’s partnership with McLaren, which provides them with an engine, drivertrain and hydraulics. One of the voices in favour of the deal internally will have been Ian Phillips, who worked formerly at Force India and so knows the upsides, and the pitfalls of a McLaren collaboration.

Virgin will continue to use Cosworth engines, according to the statement today.

Virgin came into F1 trumpeting CFD as the only technology necessary for aerodynamics development but the poor performance of the cars – which led to some paddock wags to speculate whether CFD stood for “Can’t Find Downforce” – has prompted a total rethink. Soon after Marussia took control they appointed veteran engineer Pat Symonds to lead a review of the team and today is another key step in that progress.

“While Marussia Virgin Racing continues its commitment to CFD as a technology, in order to progress at the rate of development required to achieve its racing ambitions the team will use every means available to improve the aerodynamics of its Formula One racing cars, including access to the McLaren wind tunnel,” said the statement. Some key McLaren staff will work on the Virgin programme, as allowed by the Resource Restriction Agreement.

While the team will continue to use the F1 facilities at Wirth Research it has acquired in Banbury, it will also gear up to find a permanent home for the team, with the former Arrows and Super Aguri base at Leafield likely to be the leading contender.

Symonds is banned from working directly in F1 until the end of 2012, after admitting guilt in the Singapore crash scandal, but can act as a consultant. He has held that role for Marussia since February.

Although Marussia car company is fronted by Nikolay Fomenko, the real mover in this situation at the moment is Cheglakov, a scientist by training who has built up an empire in software and technology. His presence has been increasingly evident in recent months and he has clearly resolved to turn the team into a competitive force in F1.

Aligning itself with McLaren, whose chairman Martin Whitmarsh is also chairman of the teams’ association, is a shrewd tactical move both from a sporting and political point of view.

And from the sounds of it, there will be a lot more moves in the near future.

* Post script Cosworth issued a press release congratulating Marussia on this partnership with the following quote from F1 general manager Mark Gallagher: “Cosworth is looking forward to a close working partnership with Marussia Virgin Racing and its new supplier McLaren Applied Technologies to ensure a highly competitive, fully integrated powertrain solution for the team moving forward. Today’s announcements show the team’s firm intent to make progress up the grid and Cosworth is pleased to be playing such a key part in the next exciting chapter of Marussia Virgin Racing.”

Also mentioned in the release yesterday is that Cosworth introduced Marussia to F1 in the first place and developed the engine for its road car, so it is quite a close relationship.

Also worth noting is that Williams will continue to work with Cosworth on the engine for its Jaguar supercar project, the C-X75.

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53 Comments
  1. Stephen Hopkinson says:

    Any news on the rumours that Virgin will give Gary Paffett a race seat as part of the deal?

    1. Andy c says:

      That would be great if its true

  2. The other Ian says:

    Let me get this straight.
    First they cancel their contract with Nick Wirth, probably causing his company to lost value, and now they’ve bought the company, probably “on the cheap” as well.
    Erm… sounds a bit “fast and loose” if you ask me.

    1. Jo Torrent says:

      I think that Wirth was kind of an associate of the whole operation Virgin & my guess is that they had a settlement where Wirth had to go in exchange of them buying his structure.

    2. Tom says:

      I was under the impression that they purchased only WRT’s F1 assets, not the rest of the company.

      1. The other Ian says:

        Nevertheless, those F1 assets were probably got rather cheaply.
        Expanding on the girlfriend metaphor mentioned below; basically this is like buying the house (you shared but she owned) cheaply, because the girlfriend could no longer afford to keep up with the mortgage.
        Whatever you think about Wirth as a designer, he doesn’t deserve to treated like this. Just my opinion.

      2. Tom says:

        I believe they financed at least part of the purchase directly in the first place, so yes, they probably got them cheap – but so what?

        Wirth convinced them to invest lots of money in CFD. CFD didn’t work. They pulled out, and instead of leaving him with loads of stuff he didn’t want/need, they bought it off him. If he didn’t want to sell, he wouldn’t have.

        I don’t see any reason to think that he’s being treated badly, beyond your own speculation.

  3. jonrob says:

    One hast to ask if the car in the field (above) signifies the lost direction of the team at present, or any other metaphor for it’s present stake.
    So Richard Branson must feel relieved that he still does not have to put his hand in his pocket for any cash, whilst gaining several hundred thousand pounds worth of free publicity for his brand. Or is the team name going to change? It’s not like they will loss any “points for prizes” money from Bernie, so they may as well!

  4. young slinger says:

    Truly good news for all F1 fans, possibly one less mobile chicane next season……..!

  5. Wayne says:

    Isn’t this the second time that Mr Worth has gone against prevailing F1 wisdom with his CFD model? If so, he should be ashamed of his own arrogance. If not, I’ll…err… pipe down!

    1. Wayne says:

      And why is that car in a meadow? Has it been put out to pasture half-way through the season?

      1. Wucash says:

        Maybe they decided the only way they’ll win something is if they join lawnmower racing.

    2. MAS says:

      Virgin thought Wirth’s CFD-only approach would allow them to be competitive on a (very) low budget. Moreover they were going to do this with the least experienced personnel of any team.

      Cutting out the wind tunnel from the budget would save money (which it did) and streamline the design-process to allow for quicker development for a lower price (which it didn’t). I think Wirth was naïve in thinking that this was at all possible.

      But the blame lies primarily with Virgin for wanting to sit on the front row for a nickel (last year they proudly claimed to have the lowest budget of all).

      The CFD-only route made their plans at least theoretically feasible because they were spending what little money they had on doing something different than the rest. Now that they ditched Wirth they are going to be doing the same as everybody else but on a lower budget.

      The bottom line is that they will finally have to start spending real money to get anywhere but this was true before this McLaren-deal as well. Don’t get me wrong, a tech-deal with McLaren is definitely preferable to a deal with Wirth but the fundamental problem is the low budget.

      1. MAS says:

        Also they were actually on the grid with 45m, unlike a certain American team with Youtube-money, and weren’t really dependant on pay-drivers either, unlike HRT (who were rumoured to have about a 60m budget).

        So I wouldn’t call it a complete failure

      2. captainj84 says:

        who’s the american team?

      3. MAS says:

        hehe, I was comparing VR’s performance to some of 2010′s other new entries captainj84. USF1 was partially owned by one of the founders of Youtube (cash probably wasn’t the main problem) and they too were aiming for a CFD-only approach.

        Of course, Nick Wirth promised more than “beating” the no-show and now that I think about it you may have been joking about that instead of asking an obvious question but blame the internet…

        Anyway, Branson got what he paid for.

  6. Mohammed Al-Momen says:

    Well hopefully this will make the mid pack even tighter in the future. More exciting races for the fans :D

    1. WiLL says:

      lol…mid pack u say. this is a back of the grid team and always will be!

  7. john g says:

    i don’t understand why they parted with wirth and then bought their facilities…? you don’t split up with your girlfriend and then move in with her!

    1. James W says:

      When you think about it, the facilities are no longer “Wirth facilities”, they’re now Marussia Virgin Racing facilities.

    2. Dave says:

      I think they liked Wirth’s resources, but not his ineffeicient aerodynamics using CFD

    3. Chris says:

      Perhaps with that analogy, what they are doing is keeping the body but changing the brain?

    4. billday says:

      No, but you might want to try to get her to leave behind her TV and her cuisinart.

    5. David McVey says:

      There’s nothing wrong with the facilities but they are only as good as the ideas conceived within them so perhaps Wirth was seen as stale bread in that respect. His cars certainly looked basic, very 2009.

    6. ryan says:

      i think it was more like splitting up with the gf then buying her own house out from under her and kicking her out on to the street

    7. rvd says:

      It’s called “Friends with benefits”.

    8. Tim. says:

      Because they ultimately want the capability in house, take what knowledge McL has… combine it with their own in house CFD and start to learn the coupling effect and study of track… wind-tunnel…. and CFD…sounds to me like the have a sold plan to go forward.

      The way real teams to it.

    9. devilsadvocate says:

      Sounds more like splitting up with your girl and then evicting her from her own house

      1. …and then bringing in a new girlfriend! ;-)

        Facilities depend on the people running them. A good group of team members with a bad manager is a bad team. Replace that manager, and the team can excel. Wirth is brilliant, but was not running the technical side of the program well. Now that he is replaced with MVR people, they are hoping that they can extract more from the team now that the technical and the sporting sides will be more integrated.

  8. Andy Carr says:

    James on the Autosport website it says:

    “As part of the deal, Virgin Racing will have access to McLaren’s facilities – such a test rigs, simulators and computer technology – plus its wind tunnel. Furthermore staff from McLaren will be placed within the Virgin Racing group.”

    In your professional opinion, what kind of staff will McLaren be placing within the Virgin Team, I presume not there best people?

    Many Thanks

    P.S. Did me and my bro with the F1 Tyre Changing competition :-D

  9. Dale says:

    I don’t like it as I fear it’ll dilute McLaren’s own efforts in winning the championship again.
    The key to success if F1 is ‘focus’ or do I have it wrong?

    1. Andy C says:

      Why would it, its another revenue stream for McLaren.

      They loaned out some tech people to force india when they did the deal on the back end of the car. You could argue its a good opp to upskill/get racing experience for more people.

      You could say the same about Ferrari and Mercedes also.

    2. nick f says:

      I wonder if Mclaren will get to see Virgin’s tyre data. That could be useful.

  10. Johnny Talia says:

    Why is the article accompanied by a photo of the car wrecked and out in the middle of a pasture? This does not symbolise moving up the grid to me.

    1. Simple says:

      Old design being put to pasture?

  11. The Russsian way of doing business…

  12. Adelaide says:

    Does anybody know anything about this: “Renault designer Tim Densham is linked with the famous Maranello based team”?

  13. Maximum Attack says:

    Does the newly revived ‘team orders’ era of F1 (which I welcome) have any bearing on partnered teams? Could a Force India and a Virgin move over for a McLaren? Could a Virgin block a Red Bull or a Ferrari to the tactical benefit of a McLaren?

    I realise they are not all in the same team. Would they (the smaller teams) be compelled to bite the hands that fed them?

    1. ACB says:

      This would be a technical collaboration only. Force India has never been asked to move aside for Mclaren, and STR has never been asked to move over for Red Bull. Not that it’s all that necessary.

    2. young slinger says:

      Hmmm. Like a certain red car team member visiting another, supplied, team during a race, a couple of seasons ago, because behind one of their cars was a red one….? Like that? Nah, doesn’t happen!

    3. Jason C says:

      That’s not team orders, that’s race fixing. IMO 2 teams collaborating on track is ‘tonne of bricks’ territory.

  14. Jo Torrent says:

    James,

    Williams just announced that they will move To Renault power.

    Virgin new links with McLaren mean that they will use McLaren rear end as does Sauber with Ferrari. The easiest solution would probably be to use Mercedes power to make the cost & processes easier.

    If Virgin indeed goes for Mercedes, there will remain only HRT to use Cosworth. Even if Virgin doesn’t use Mercedes, cosworth will have in the best scenario 2 clients which will have to pay for the development of a new turbo V6.

    Let’s not forget Pollock’s Pure engine coming in 2014 as well. I don’t see any future for Cosworth under these circumstances & a very gloomy one for Pure as well.

    1. Andy C says:

      It will be interesting to watch as Cosworth have a great team and a good engine, along with a very good heritage in engine dev.

      Just as Mercedes took on Ilmor, I cant imagine all of that tech competence would go to waste (i.e acquisition).

      I dont think the Cosworth is the weak point on the Williams this year, but hopefully they are addressing the aero issues.

  15. unoc12 says:

    RBR and STR driver Ricciardo going to HRT
    HRT being bought out
    Williams ditching Cosworth for Renault
    Virgin is now controlled by Marussia
    MVR is in a tech deal with McLaren
    PDVSA/Maldo contract leaked

    And I was just expecting a Hamilton or Button resigning announcement…

    Turns out the DRS does make this season muich more exciting even off track

  16. ACB says:

    Its good to see that the story lines for the sophmore teams will not end with ‘pulls out of Formula One.’ Rather the path is getting some experienced hands at the helm, fufilling long term financial requirements and building a base of technical operations.

  17. Robert Lujan says:

    It dsoesn’t look like they really want to move “Up” the grid if they the company that put them so far behind in the first place! To Reply to Stephen Hopkinson up above I haven’t heard any “Rumours” that Virgin might make a deal to Paffett.

  18. Douglas says:

    I knew a fellow who runs statistical analysis on how fires spread (for instance the London tube fire a few years back) using MS Excel. It’s quite interesting – he can illustrate how convection currents, vortices, etc carry and spread the fire, all using Excel formulae. When I told him what Virgin were trying to do, using computers to design the aerodynamics he just smiled, shook his head and said that’s fine, but the information you get out one end of a computer is only as good as the information you put in the other end. Feed it the wrong info and you will never get the right answer. There is no substitute for physical modelling to illustrate unanticipated events, in this case, in a wind tunnel. Glad they’ve realised that, wish them the best in the future.

    1. Tom says:

      Wow, Excel formulae! Exotic!

    2. Exactly: garbage in = garbage out.

      Another cliche I quite like is: Every engineering calculation is only as good as its assumptions. You can get all the math right, but if you made a bad assumption, your calculation is for naught.

  19. Krystian says:

    They may not be the ‘best’ McLaren people, but I’m sure that they’ll be the best people working on the Virgin car.

    In following the ‘girlfriend’ theme of the whole arrangement that seems to have developed here, It’d be a bit like dating the last placed contestant in the Miss Universe contest. You may not have the best of the bunch, but it’s still better than what you had before!

  20. Andy C says:

    I’m intrigued. Where is the photo from? Is it a car being stored after being taken off track somewhere?

  21. Brace says:

    James, why is there a wrecked F1 car in a middle of a meadow!?! And how in the world did it end up there!?! There’s no such a meadow in place of any run-off areas on modern F1 circuits.
    And what kind of a photo is that anyway to accompany an article called “Virgin moves show Marussia’s statement of intent to move up the grid”.
    I mean, that photo seems almost surreal. :/

  22. Rich C says:

    BTW how do you properly pronounce “Marussia” ?

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