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Video: Behind the scenes at Virgin Racing – Nick Wirth interview
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Video: Behind the scenes at Virgin Racing – Nick Wirth interview
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Sep 2010   |  9:16 am GMT  |  82 comments

Last week I went down to visit Virgin Racing Technical Director Nick Wirth at his Wirth Research headquarters in Oxfordshire, which this year designed and developed the first digital F1 car, entirely conceived using CFD with no wind tunnel.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Virgin, which started the season with chronic unreliability and a fuel tank which wasn’t big enough. Solving the reliability issues delayed performance upgrades until Silverstone and here Wirth admits that there was some nervousness within the team around Valencia. But recently they have added performance to the car, Wirth says that his group has added as much as 17-20% more downforce and as Lotus has stopped developing this year’s car to focus on next year’s, Virgin are moving ahead.

Wirth reckons that one of the advantages of using the CFD approach is that they are able to develop both this year’s car and next year’s at the same time and believes that the upgrades for the next race in Singapore will show the extent to which they are closing the gap on Toro Rosso and the slowest of the established teams. Next year the target is to be amongst them.

Nick is filmed in front of one his many rock and roll photos, which adorn every wall of the facility.

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1

Just a reminder.

Every established team has an hystorical data bank from previous years while Virgin has not had that advantage this year.

The use of the data of the CFD from this year plus the data from the track will allow them to close the gap in terms of actual data knowledge and therefore possibility to develop.

If the data model is correct, Virgin could make a significant development in next year car.

It is paramount that they will focus solely on the development of the car when the car will be running and not trying to make sure that the car will start and will be able to do some laps.

Virgin and Lotus has been restricted enormourly this season by reliability issues, they needed to make sure the car was able to start and run before concentrating into the development.

Both teams look like they decided to pair themselves with a reliable suppier of engine – gear box – rear end of the car as Force India.

Overall I think Virgin will be able to close the gap next season and they might be able, like Lotus, to fight with the back fo the mid field such as Toro Rosso and Sauber.

2

LOL. Loved the quick highlight of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. Was thinking what similarities they had with F1, loudness came to mind.

3

As much as we need and wish all the new teams well, Virgin gives amateur a bad name. Just admit the cfd approach is what they believe their approach to be the best with the funds they have available, fans will happily accept that. When you get the basics so wrong, there is something way adrift at the top.

4

I’m a big fan of how computers are leveling the playing field in so many industries, particularly creative ones so I have been keenly watching Virgin’s progress. It’s risky to go all CFD but I think it will pay off if they can stick with it until they work out the kinks and the technology improves a bit (and it always does at a much faster rate than anticipated). For example, I am a musician and have seen how quickly computers have taken over. The things I can do in my own little home studio for 1000 dollars would have been impossible in 100000 dollar studio 15 years ago. Now it’s all becoming available for iphones!

5

Of course _if_ NW Research wanted to use a wind tunnel they could always go round the corner and use Torro Rossos!!

They’ve done well with a CFD only approach. This season has been a huge learning curve for them – they can only get better next season imho.

6

James I have a question thats going to make me look like an utter fool but I’m going to ask it anyway:

Whats stopping a team with Mclaren or Ferrari’s budget building an ‘under-ground’ or ‘indoor’ test track, build a 3rd chassis, take samples of bridgestone rubber to get approximately a similar rubber compound, build similar engines to the current ones in use (mclaren couldnt ask mercedes but I’m sure they could build something similar – they have an engine unit now I believe for their road cars) and then secretly test a 3rd car for hours on end to get ‘unlimited’ testing

without the knowledge of the FIA or other teams?

You could hire a test staff contracted to secrecy and test any new parts for real. I know if I had an f1 team with a huge budget I’d at least try to get away with this!

Again sorry about this slighly mad question. Would like an answer even if just to humour me (though I partly had the idea when Tony Fernandes jokingly mentioned in your F1fans forum that Martin Whitmarsh had a secret underground pipe to the Mclaren Headquaters form his house lol)

7

The engines wouldn’t go because they wouldn’t have a standard Electronic Control Unit, which are FIA controlled.

8

James, you have writen to great lengths about the new teams (Virgin and Lotus, in particular) and it is great to see that someone is paying attention.

However, with regards to Virgin, I’m afraid you might want to be a little more critical. Indeed, this is a cheap way of putting together a car that just about works, but I feel that formula 1 is more than that. I am quite sure that all the other F1 teams using CFD are continuously evaluating its potential and should be more than happy to limit their WT testing, once they have generated sufficient confidence in its output.

One must be critical of big claims on acurate computer modelling of any sort (and we hear that on anything from financial forecasting to drug testing).

9

So you are saying James should be more critical based on his feelings or personal opinions rather than facts.

James isn’t a Sun reporter you know he’s a proper journalist.

I say let Nick make his claims and give him a couple of years to try and prove the concept can work before we send out the wolves on him.

10

What are the facts, then? Critical analysis should be part and parcel of the journalism you describe. I am not happy for any chancer to make whatever clams they might and get away with it for as long as they can. Take financial models, for example. Your approach is what allowed them to be used until proven inacurate – with devastating consequences for the global economy. I appreciate that F1 is not quite as critical, but it is exactly the same analogy.

11

Does anybody know what the constructors championship situation is between Virgin/HRT/Lotus? What race position do Virgin need to achieve the overtake HRT/Lotus? Thanks!

12

The only way i can see team orders being effective is if the # 1 driver is behind the #2 driver. With 5 races to go how often is this going to happen?

Even if there is the situation where Hamilton is behind Button or Webber behind Vettel I dont see how its an advantage to let the one behind past. Sure one driver might get a couple more points but they could crash next race and the other driver picks up good points and your back to square one.

13

I am at work so can’t watch the video. But i would really like to put forward the cncept of why the new teams were treated so BADLY in no testing time etc by F1 or FIA or whoever it is.

Not only is it unfair, it is / was dangerous.

Why can they not have a concession to have a couple/few test days for the first two years of their involvement.

Not only would this have allowed them to get mechanically sorted (and safe to compete with / against) but would also give them a little bit of extra publicity (sponsor coverage) which I am sure would help out (Hispania for instance)….

I can see why they accepted the terms of the entry as they did, was almost certainly this or nothing, but where are the heads of the people running this sport?

Honestly, a great sport survives despite the monkeys running the zoo.

14

Nice piece, James.

I enjoy those little peeks behind the curtains that you give us.

15

Thank you

16

Hello James,

A quick question: how much of old Simtek Grand Prix is in Virgin GP?

Thanks

17

Not much. Wirth obviously went into other areas after Simtek and then came back to F1. It’s not a race team, that is Manor in Yorkshire. Wirth is an R&D centre

18

What’s all this about leggard getting the dump? Comeon James get on the blower to the beeb and make our f1 weekends better than they even used to be with u and Martin. The bbcs money and u back on the mike – what we all want! Oh, and maybe u could put in a wee word to ditch Eddie I’m a prat Jordan at the same time

19

Personally would like to see the BBC rotate commentators and pundits, I’m sure even commentators tire over a 20 race season.

Eddie Jordan can be a bit oot but he asks alot of relevant questions. Eddie won’t just stand there and listen to endless drivel that avoids the question.

20

20 races is a lot!

21

Almost choked on my cider when Nick used the words competitive racing car and virgin in the same sentence..

22

Compared with how back of the grid team used to be a couple of decades back the new teams are pretty competitive. 🙂

23

Im talking about the 2010 season, and this season, virgin have certainly not developed a competitive racing car. Not quite sure why he would say that.

24

Top block with a good attitute – best of luck to him and the team!

25

Hi James,

Off topic, I was wandering when do you and F1 drivers arrive to Singapore Heath-row Airport, if you don’t mind. I would really appreciate if you could email me or reply here my little nephew wants to meet Schumacher and he doesn’t have much time.

Thanks a lot.

26

your assuming that he is only testing the current design on his cfd program to ensure it matches the real world! what if he is testing every car he has ever designed against real world data to calibrate his software?

27

The problem with CFD and similarly FE or FD analysis in other fields is exactly this, which curve fitting parameters are used to calibrate against field data? As someone above noted the quality of the output in computer analysis can only ever be as good as the inputs used and also what is often forgotten who is selecting these inputs. The complexity of interaction effects between various aerodynamic components means that only an extremely similar scenario could be realistically interpreted to the level of detail required. This might stretch to next years car where there is a large number of similarities but using data from cars which do not have the same interaction characteristics would be much less useless.

The use of physical modelling techniques continue in the field of fluid dynamics and other areas of engineering as they continue to be able to provide data and mechanisms to which computer models can be fitted to and used for parametric studies. Also the techniques for capturing data from experiments continue to develop.

28

Hmmm.. I think he is missing the point. CFD by itself great.. gets you within 90% of a top F1 Car… but by itself it will not get you equal or past. As any team will tell you that last bit means you need every resource. Just look how hard it is for Ferrari and McLaren to catch up to Red Bull.

Its all very well him saying he is catching the back end up…. no problem he can do that I don’t doubt… but to be a top team… nope it isn’t going to happen with just CFD.

If as he alluded to a budget cap was in place.. well maybe there might be a different story…

29

You are assuming that Virgin Racing can’t get new parts from design onto the car quicker than the other teams.

If they can do that (including ensuring the speed of the manufacturing process of components are at least equal to the top teams) and at an overall lower cost then the concept should work.

30

Nope that’s not what i am assuming… The point is ALL teams are using CFD and have been for a long time… this is not a new concept by Nick and all the talk is as if it is. If everyone has it, then to get the advantage you need even more tools to refine the art of which a wind tunnel is another piece, Nicks play is that they are Just using CFD, and this is the problem. The more tools an engineer has to verify the CFD etc the more accurate the overall picture. as I said if there was a budget cap then they would be in a great position… but there isn’t… and in that area most likely will not be

31

I’d just like to add that the biggest obsticle I see for Nick is the lack of in-season testing (real world data to compare against his CFD data).

If they manage to get to a point where they can bring new parts to the car at just about every race weekend but something doesn’t quite work as expected then they will always be on the back foot compared to the other teams.

32

I guess save that they are aiming to get into the midfield in the short to medium term.

I hope cfd can get them there, then with increased budget maybe they can use windtunnel also.

Best of luck to them. To me getting a solid car on the grid with no in season testing is a major achievement for all the teams. I hope to see them all progress next season.

33

I just hope Richard Branson sticks around long enough to give Nick a fighting chance to prove the doubters wrong (of which there are many).

34

That is EAXACTLY why Branson probably will stick around…. he loves to be able to raise his middle finger to the nay sayers and doubters when he comes good. He rarely fails. 🙂

35

Dickie also knowns when to cut his loses.

36

The problem with designing anything using solely computers is that the product can only be as good as the data that is inputted to get that product. For instance computers can still only predict the weather, beyond 48 hours, with a 40-60% reliability, using historical data from previous years. The same applies to designing an F1 car and Virgin doesn’t have such historical data to use as it is a new team.

37

There was a study in the UK a couple of years ago which showed that if you simpley predicted that tomorrow’s weather would be the same as today’s you’d be right 70% of the time. A far, *far better result than the weather ‘scientists’ can achieve!

38

There’s probably a trade-off involved with this approach. Ultimately I suspect that if you want to play with Red Bull/Ferrari/Mclaren you’re going to need to have both CFD simulation and some wind tunnel testing, if for nothing else other than the fact that the last little bit of performance is always the hardest and most expensive to find.

However the question is how competitive you can effectively be with just the CFD, especially if you are saving the windtunnel money and putting it into other areas of development of the car.

I don’t think there’s any reason why that approach won’t be enough to get to solid midfield.

Ultimately I want it to work because (a) it’s different and (b) it’ll open the route for more new teams if they can do it all by computer and be at least in the pack.

39

[quote]Wirth reckons that one of the advantages of using the CFD approach is that they are able to develop both this year’s car and next year’s at the same time[/quote]

Exactly how does that work? No matter what your resources are, if you are deviding them in two it always means you have less resources than when focussing on just one. Really deviding computer time between two designs boils down to exactly the same thing as deviding windtunnel time between two designs.

40

Yeah, but 2 computers(not the type you and I use) are a lot cheaper than 2 windtunnels. A lot of teams cant afford 1 wind tunnel, let alone 2. This is what I think he means.

41

Nick Wirth really does seem like a good guy, and a good spokesperson for the team! Unlike Norbert Haug or Pat Fry, who seem to have a lot of weight on their shoulders.

42

The newly established teams should have been allowed this year further testing opportunities to cement them into Formula 1. I don’t think this would have given them much of an advantage, it’s more to help them stay within F1.

I was really impressed with Nick Wirth in that video, seems a really nice guys and realistic. Hope they do well!

43

I agree 100%, it is a shame to see them exert such an enormous effort only to find that some o-ring on a hydraulic line wasn’t up to snuff. Maybe they should be given an opportunity to run a couple of long, mechanical shakedown tests. Let them lap the same circuit for a couple of race distances, but restrict them to a homologated wing and rear-diffuser setup? Don’t let them evaluate aero, just the mechanical bits.

Actually, I say let the bottom 30% of the season’s finishers have this extra mechanical testing. Nobody likes to see a team not finish a Grands Prix, they should be allowed a bit more testing.

44

Do you think they would be any faster with a better driver line up? I know Lotus went with two quick, experienced drivers, whereas Virgin went with Glock, who was not outstanding at Toyota, and an untested rookie in di Grassi. Was that a mistake that might cost them this year against the Lotus team?

Have been impressed by CFD though – i thought it was bound to failure, but I’m glad they are beginning to prove me wrong. Its nice to see new, effective and cost saving concepts being taken to f1. Virgin have, in this respect, shown what new teams can bring to the party: a breath of fresh air and ideas in the new f1 environment. Good on them for sticking with it.

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