Virgin Racing came into Formula 1 in 2010 with a new approach. Gaining their entry to the World Championship under the Manor Motorsport banner, investment from Virgin meant the team was renamed. The team joined up with Wirth Research to design and build the car. The decision was taken to create and develop a Formula 1 car purely using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) as opposed to carrying out any wind tunnel testing.
This was a new approach to Formula 1, as all existing teams carry out wind tunnel work to develop new ideas for their cars. Some believed this to be a flawed approach, as CFD cannot replicate all the parameters of running in a wind tunnel, but Virgin Racing and Nick Wirth have stuck by this method. Virgin Racing gained their Formula 1 entry during the time of Max Mosley’s reign as FIA President and his proposed plans of a $40m budget cap. This never materialised, and for Virgin Racing this meant trying to get on the grid without letting costs spiral, and therefore foregoing an expensive wind tunnel program.
The VR-01 was a tidy car, possibly starting the season faster than Lotus Racing, but was nowhere near the pace of any of the established teams. Timo Glock joined the team after the withdrawal of Toyota, and was partnered by Lucas di Grassi, the Brazilian rookie joining the team after coming 3rd in the GP2 championship in 2009.
Early in the season Virgin Racing became somewhat a joke of the paddock after designing a car which did not have a fuel tank large enough to complete a full race distance. This was down to a change in fuel deal for the team in which the density of the new fuel was lower than what they were hoping for. This meant a redesign of the chassis which was available for the start of the European season.
The chassis redesign meant a delay in bringing aerodynamic updates to the car, which caused the team to slip behind the Lotus team on pace. One 14th place finish for each driver is all that the Virgin Racing team were able to show for their debut season.
2011 brings increased investment from a new title sponsor and Russian sports car manufacturer Marussia, and with reports of vastly upgraded CFD capabilities available at the teams disposal, they will expect to take big steps forward as they will try to maximise the advantages of using CFD, which will allow them to run simulations on various development paths.
Timo Glock remains with the team to be partnered by Jérôme d’Ambrosio, the Belgian earning a race drive after being Renault’s test driver in 2010 and completing a few runs in the Virgin Racing team during Friday Free Practice towards the end of the 2010 season.
The German joined Virgin Racing after the Toyota team left Formula 1 at the end of 2009. Leading the team was a big challenge and he was able to put some good drives in for the team to try and fight the two Lotus drivers. Finishing 14th in the Japanese Grand Prix was the best result he was able to achieve in a team that had their share of struggles.
Timo would receive the latest specification of upgrades before Lucas di Grassi, therefore getting the better of his team mate in Qualifying. Running in a solid position in the Korean Grand Prix would have earned the team a strong finish, but a crash with Sebastian Buemi in his Toro Rosso ended his race.
Going into this season, Glock’s experience will be vital to the team in order to match the possible improvement that Team Lotus is expected to make. Targeting the points scorers would be a huge achievement for 2011, but closing in to the teams above them is the priority.
The young Belgian joins the Marussia Virgin Racing team in 2011 after four outings during Friday Free Practice towards the end of the season, having competed in GP2 and the GP2 Asia Series since 2008. In the 2010 season, d’Ambrosio finished 12th in the GP2 standings, taking his one and only win during his time in GP2 at the Monaco race.
Coming into the team, the 25 year old will have to show that he is able to keep up with the pace of his more experienced team mate to justify the teams decision to replace Lucas di Grassi, who had a difficult year often racing a lower specification of car compared to Glock, but managed to give a good account of himself during the 2010 season.
As a rookie, d’Ambrosio will no doubt take time to settle in to the demands of Formula 1, so it would only be fair to judge his performances once he is able to spend time to understand the car.
With a full year behind the team and understanding the aerodynamic requirements required for a modern Formula 1 car, it is expected that the MVR-02 will be able to close in on the teams above them, and with their enhanced CFD capabilities, they will want to push hard to make big improvements as the season goes on, this means both drivers will have to work hard and drive the team forward.