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.