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Posted on September 2, 2011
Screen shot 2011-09-02 at 11.10.36

There are plenty of signs that Team Lotus and Virgin, newcomers in 2010 are making big moves behind the scenes, consolidating their place in F1 and putting new things in place to move forward for next year. And at next week’s Italian Grand Prix in Monza we will start to see signs of that.

Virgin will have an upgrade to its car and is now starting to talk openly about its new structure, with everyone coming under one roof at the old Ascari factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Virgin famously tried to re-invent the wheel in F1, with Richard Branson praising the “visionary” Nick Wirth as the pre-eminent engineer of his generation who would make F1 cars digitally. These cars would be worked on in Sheffield by Manor Motorsport mechanics, while the commercial operation would be based in London.

Naturally this dysfunctional plan did not work and with new ownership from Marrussia has come some fresh – and ambitious – thinking. They’ve backed the judgement of Pat Symonds, who is an eminent engineer, albeit one who blotted his copybook by perpetrating the Singapore crash scandal of 2008. He’s pulling in people to Banbury, building the team Virgin should have had in 2010. John Booth and his Manor staff are also moving down south. Outgoing Williams technical director Sam Michael’s name has been linked with the team, but it’s also been linked with Force India.

Symonds is currently banned by the FIA from working full time in F1, but is able to work as a “consultant”. The definition of this seems pretty vague, so he appears to be flat out behind the scenes, but is not visible at races. He will be in 2012. With a McLaren/ Mercedes back end for next season, a wider technical partnership with McLaren, which includes things like access to the wind tunnel and race strategy software, the team is sure to step forward.

Team Lotus is changing too, but not in a fundamental way, more an organic growth step. This team was set up along conventional lines, around an eminent engineer, Mike Gascoyne, taking over an existing factory in Norfolk, using an experienced wind tunnel operation in Italy, building a team along conventional lines. Their struggle was against time in the first instance, getting a year one car built. But since then has been about brand and IP issues.

Although they won their legal battle with Group Lotus, both sides know it makes no sense to have two Lotus entities in F1 and there are suggestions that part of a new deal between team owner Tony Fernandes and the Malaysian government over Malaysian Airlines is that this Lotus vs Lotus mess is sorted out. This can only result in Group Lotus taking over the Team Lotus ownership. Under the new deal, Fernandes’ Tune Group got a 20% stake in the state owned airline, while the Malaysian investment arm took a 10% stake in Air Asia. Malaysian will focus on premium travel and will open the door for Air Asia to take its budget model to a wider range of international destinations. Today he Tweeted, “On my way to Japan and Korea. Building an incredible franchise for airasia. Within the next 5 years the power and profitability of airasia will be second to none.”

So Fernandes got what he really wanted from the Malaysian government in the wider business sense and now he owns the Caterham brand, he can focus his F1 efforts on that brand and on Air Asia’s sponsorship of it; as with the GP2 team, which is called Caterham Air Asia.

Yesterday Fernandes issued a Tweet saying, “Italian grand prix at monza will be a big few days for Team Lotus. New technology, new people , new location with caterham cars.

The thinking is that he will pull the Caterham operation and his F1 team all under one roof, probably somewhere around the science parks of Cambridge, which is closer to the F1 action, accessible for the existing workforce and easier to get to for new recruits.

It will be interesting to see what the “new technology” and “New people” means. Team Lotus has a technical partnership with Red Bull for the back end, including gearbox and with Renault on engines.

F1 never stops and the target is always moving forwards, but with both teams looking well funded and both with a clear plan, the little teams are likely to make some big steps.

Meanwhile Monza could also see some news about Toro Rosso, with the Spanish media reporting that the team has been sold to a UAE enterprise called the International Petroleum Investment Company.

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Some big steps coming for the little teams
36 Responses

  1.   1. Posted By: JB
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 11:31 am 

    As far as I’m aware there is no agreement for Marussia Virgin to have a McLaren ‘back-end’ next year as per Force India. They will continue with the Cosworth/Xtrac combo, just using McLaren’s resource to improve upon their own design.

    [Reply]


  2.   2. Posted By: MattJ
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 11:39 am 

    If Group Lotus took over Team Lotus ownership how do you think David Hunt would take that James? – any chance of legal action there?

    [Reply]

    Brisbane Bill Reply:

    I think that really depends if there were any clauses or conditions set in the contract of sale. Generally, if the sale was the team name and all rights in its entirety then there could be no claim by the former owners. If the sale was for rights only then the previous owners might reclaim those rughts but, as the Lotus car company are not looking to buy or use the name “Team Lotus” then there might be no rights issue to address, other than as already covered in the recent court case.

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  3.   3. Posted By: Sean Cleary
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 11:45 am 

    and hrt?

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  4.   4. Posted By: Steve Jarvis
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 12:01 pm 

    Its great the newer teams are making a step forward. It can only be a good thing that they are more competitive. Its a shame there isn’t much news about HRT as they could be left considerably adrift next season. I hope not as it would be good to see all of the three new teams and 6 cars have a shot at at least Q2 on a regular basis.

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  5.   5. Posted By: noahracer
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 12:36 pm 

    I have yet to understand how David Hunt managed to give up/sell the rights to the Lotus name?

    [Reply]

    James Allen Reply:

    He owned them and in September 2010 he sold them to Fernandes.

    [Reply]


  6.   6. Posted By: lecho
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 12:37 pm 

    What about HRT? Any news from them? :)

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  7.   7. Posted By: rvd
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 1:08 pm 

    Great. The more competitive teams we have, the better.

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  8.   8. Posted By: Mark G
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 1:19 pm 

    James,

    Interesting news about a re-location for Team Lotus.

    Caterham are in partnership with Lola on a track car already: http://www.caterham-spr.com/

    And Autosport last week mentioned Lola might look at F1 once again…

    [Reply]


  9.   9. Posted By: Mon Pen
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 1:59 pm 

    Tony Fernandes continues to impress me as someone who can play the F1 politics game better than anyone.

    [Reply]

    James Allen Reply:

    Looks like he’s not too bad at the national politics game wither judging by his achievements in Malaysia..!

    [Reply]

    Mario Reply:

    Yeah, and corporate games too. A man with a plan.

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  10.   10. Posted By: jonrob
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 2:05 pm 

    Before the holiday Lotus v Lotus was in court again with the same judge as for the original action, but we have not heard the results of the second legal round.

    [Reply]

    James Allen Reply:

    Group Lotus’ appeal against the decision was rejected.

    [Reply]


  11.   11. Posted By: Mark in Australia
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 2:39 pm 

    I can’t wait for the grid to tighten right up. Imagine F1 similar to Australia’s V8 Supercar championship where 1 – 1.5 seconds covers the 30 car field!!!

    [Reply]

    Jeff Reply:

    Would be nice to see more than just the usual suspects up at the front.

    Not sure the Aussie V8 series is a good comparison with F1. It’s 2-make, Ford vs Holden championship. There aren’t massive variations between the cars. Even in that series, it seems to be dominated by a few big teams, so apparently money talks even there. The gaps are just not quite as great.

    The more the F1 teams restrict their resources, the more level the playing field, and the better chance of mid-level teams coming forward.

    [Reply]


  12.   12. Posted By: ACB
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 3:34 pm 

    Nick Wirth is a visionary; he did manage to field an F-1 car that was completely CFD designed. However this devotion to CFD only painted him into a corner he could not escape, and the limitations of the technology at this point left him with few alternatives to improve a very poor car indeed.

    Of all the people involved in the Singapore scandal, Pat Symonds is the one I think has learned his lesson and I would be glad to see return. It is a rather strange ‘wink and nod’ position he is in, but his guidance is undoubtedly welcome and it appears Virgin Marussia are doing the right things even if the guidance comes from a Principle in absentia via Elba.

    Tony Fernades’ management of his team has been in my opinion nothing short of brilliant. He did not bring on the Lotus vs. Lotus flap upon himself, and in a way it led to better things with the purchase of Catheram, which is an excellent bit of branding. Had the FiA not backed down on the four cylinder engine rule we might have seen the same manufacturer providing engines for both the sports cars as the F-1 car.

    It would not be a surprise that Toro Rosso was sold, it seemed be less and less a priority for Dietrich, and as it was required to be independent in its manufacturing, has distanced itself from RBR. I would also say it seems to have moved away from its raison d’etre of providing seats for the young driver program.

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    Mark V. Reply:

    It’s a shame that the 100% CFD designed car became a joke to many, but that is the risk one takes when trying to be innovative and I am sure Wirth knew that going in. As Mark Twain once said: “A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

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    Chris Reply:

    Um yes Fernandes did bring the Lotus debacle on himself, when he blatantly breached the license agreement.

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    wayne Reply:

    Nick worth is not a visionary. This is not the first time he has made the same mistake with CFD. [mod]

    [Reply]

    malcolm.strachan Reply:

    Name a few. I thought his Acura LMP went rather well.

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  13.   13. Posted By: malcolm.strachan
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 3:39 pm 

    This all seems like good news to me, overall.

    I am still not a fan of the way the whole Lotus/Lotus mess ended up, and would have liked to see Fernandes carry on with Team Lotus; however, seeing that Caterham realistically is closer to the original Lotus than Group Lotus will ever be (unless Fernandes buys it), it’s not all bad and will be neat to see what happens with Caterham.

    With Virgin, I would like to hear Nick Wirth’s side of the story. I find it hard to believe that he could do so well in sports cars with the all-digital Acura LMP cars, yet fail in F1. I know that the level of competition in F1 is perhaps a step up from Le Mans/ALMS, but beating Audi and Peugeot to pole at Sebring certainly shows that the premise has promise.

    Last year, I recall reading that Wirth had upgrades to be built and installed, but they didn’t have the budget to do it… then when they were put on the car, they correlated quite well to the CFD numbers. This year Wirth was rather quiet. I am not sure if this means that he knew he wasn’t cutting the mustard, or if he knew there were other problems in the team and that his best option was to keep quiet and not anger the boss. So did CFD fail, or did management fail to extract what they could out of CFD?

    James, what about an interview with Mr. Wirth?

    [Reply]


  14.   14. Posted By: The other Ian
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 3:43 pm 

    Not sure Virgin using McLaren’s Strategy software is a good idea, considering some of the dubious decisions that McLaren have made this year, strategy wise. I am sure Virgin don’t want to repeat them.
    Yes, I am being a bit flippant here, but only by a small bit.

    [Reply]

    Andy C Reply:

    Tools provide insight. People still make decisions.

    I don’t see McLaren as making any more mistakes than anyone else to be honest.

    As with everyone, the focus always falls on “bad” decisions, but they’ve also run some great strategies this year.

    [Reply]


  15.   15. Posted By: Christian S
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 5:44 pm 

    So that will probably leave cash-strapped Williams and HRT at the end of the grid last year. If Williams is hiring two pay drivers for last year as people have been mentioning, it is all over for them – there is just no way that this will result in a properly developed car throughout the season. They better sell the operation to someone who can run it properly.
    Speaking of which, it has been rather impressive how Tony Fernandes has never put a pay driver in one of his cars. He knows where it pays to save money and where it does not. In F1, the driver seat is one place people should have learned from history, that a pay driver ends up costing the team more than they bring in.

    [Reply]

    Christian S Reply:

    Sorry, I meant next year, not last year. It is Friday, the mind is off :)

    [Reply]

    Andy C Reply:

    From my understanding Williams are not cash strapped. The PVDSA (or whichever way round those letters go if I’ve got it wrong) is a big sponsorship deal.

    James,

    I was very interested to hear Bruno Senna being linked to a 2012 drive at Williams. Have you heard anything of substance on that? Funny how 1 weekend can change fortunes.

    I’m a big fan of Senna, and I hope he gets a good solid drive for next year. It will be interesting to see the Renault lineup, as its 2 from 4 isnt it.

    [Reply]

    Christian S Reply:

    But they are cash-strapped. Even Barrichello said so recently. They lost Air Asia, Lenovo, RBS, Allianz and other sponsors in the last couple of years, and PDVSA isn’t picking up the tab for all of this lost money.
    Apparently Sutil is their favored man now, as he brings a lot of sponsors with him. Apparently, gone are the days when Williams would pick the driver that is beating his team-mate, instead of the one getting beaten, to be their lead driver…

    [Reply]

    Andy c Reply:

    Not a big fan of sutil myself. I’d go senna and grosjean.

    As much as I like Rubens, I think his time is past. He was very glowing of his contri at the end of last year on design and development. But this year they’ve struggled again.

    Just need a really good new driver to give the team a morale boost. Coughlan and the other guys could be great additions seeing benefits next year.


  16.   16. Posted By: Seán Craddock
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 7:09 pm 

    I think Caterham Team Air Asia moved to a new office this week beside their workshop, is there any news where they’ve moved to or is it just a new building?

    [Reply]


  17.   17. Posted By: Atanu
        Date: September 2nd, 2011 @ 7:27 pm 

    James I have a question here….

    Assuming Team Lotus gets 10th place this year, another top ten finish next year will earn them historical benefit….

    But if they changes name, will they still be able to get the historical money next year if they finish in top 10?

    [Reply]


  18.   18. Posted By: David Ryan
        Date: September 3rd, 2011 @ 7:58 pm 

    I’m not sure I’d read either of Tony’s tweets as suggesting the Team Lotus name will soon pass over to Group Lotus – for one thing there would have to be an official transfer of all the marks at the IPO, which would take more than just the Malaysian government buying 10% of AirAsia. There would also have to be an official name change for both teams, which would require unanimous approval from the rest of the paddock or else both would forfeit all their prize money – not an inconsiderable sum in total. If anything, knowing Formula One’s recent history with sponsors I’d say the easiest resolution of the Lotus-Lotus spat would be pulling Group Lotus’ sponsorship of Renault – not the nicest outcome for Enstone admittedly, but technically the most straightforward.

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  19.   19. Posted By: Al
        Date: September 5th, 2011 @ 5:54 am 

    I’ve always wondered about the CFD approach by Wirth.

    Was the lack of success with the virgin cars
    because the CFD did not correlate well on the race track or was it purely the design of the parts were not that great?

    I have no data to support my thoughts, but I think the actually design was 75% of the problem not the CFD.

    [Reply]

    Andy C Reply:

    He designed a very successful fully CFD design in sportscar racing, and clearly knows what he’s doing.

    As I understand it, there is a much higher level of complexity with open wheel designs with the airflow, which mean its much more difficult to nail a CFD only design.

    I do wonder how much of their struggles were budget related rather than capability.

    Pat Fry is a good engineer and will doubtlessly assist Virgin.

    [Reply]


  20.   20. Posted By: Andy C
        Date: September 5th, 2011 @ 3:31 pm 

    James,

    the obvious missing piece is HRT. Is there any news as to their tech progress as Geoff Willis is always someone I’ve seen as very effective.

    Presumably their plans are still TBC as to a logical structure for the future?

    Andy

    [Reply]

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