Dinnington’s Marussia Virgin Racing Formula 1 Grand Prix team has made some drastic changes recently with their future prospects now looking much brighter - but this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone could be the last one where Yorkshire’s only Formula 1 team is based in God’s own county.
The team has had a lacklustre first half to the 2011 season and according to founder and team principal, John Booth what’s been “really disappointing is our pace. It’s aero efficiency - we’re nowhere with it.”
Having yet to score a point, Virgin Racing’s car is four seconds off the pace, also the team’s two drivers - Timo Glock and Jerome D’Ambrosio - have not qualified higher than 20th place this season, with D’Ambrosio recording a best finish of 14th in Australia’s season opener.
The problems stemmed from MVR technical director, Nick Wirth not only designing, but unconventionally also testing, his Virgin Racing car’s aerodynamic ideas solely on computers rather than checking the results in a wind tunnel. Sadly, the on-track performance has been getting steadily worse over the months.
Difficult decisions were made at a crisis meeting held over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, attended by ex-Renault F1 engineer Pat Symonds – acting as a consultant – but rather tellingly, not attended by founding partner Wirth.
Symonds suggested the CFD-only policy was flawed and the team should follow a more traditional route, in other words, he told them that they needed to use a wind tunnel – and as quickly as possible.
The next Grand Prix, in Canada, highlighted the problem, where the Hispania Racing Team who began the season without having tested either of its two cars, actually finished ahead of the MVR cars.
So the Marussia Virgin Racing team parted company with Wirth, which created a separate problem as Wirth’s company, Wirth Research Technology actually manufactured the racing cars themselves, required much negotiation to purchase the WRT factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire, ensuring the continuous supply of chassis parts be maintained.
“We’ve tried to stick to our guns with a CFD-only design process but reality beckons,” said Booth. “We have written off the 2011 season and more of our focus is turning to 2012’s MVR-03 instead. We’ve got the team to a position now where we operate very well, it looks right and we do all the things right: we do the pit-stops right, we’ve got the strategy pretty close, so we feel we are now ready for a quicker car.”
Next year should be totally different, as the MVR team has just entered into a long-term technical partnership with the all-conquering McLaren Grand Prix team’s Applied Technologies arm.
As part of the deal, Virgin Racing will have access to McLaren Applied Technologies’ facilities - such as test rigs, simulators and computer technology – plus, vitally, its wind tunnel. Furthermore, staff from McLaren will be placed within the Virgin Racing Group.
In a similar arrangement to that enjoyed by the Force India F1 team, MVR will use McLaren’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) and rear suspension but their existing agreement with engine supplier Cosworth continues.
This rekindles a relationship John Booth first enjoyed in 1996, as Manor Motorsport, where they effectively were the McLaren ‘Junior team’ honing the race-craft of young drivers in the lower ranks: the most prominent product being a certain Lewis Hamilton.
Booth is excited at the prospect of the McLaren involvement: “The McLaren Grand Prix team has more heritage, skill and experience than any other team on the F1 grid and for us to tap into McLaren’s expertise should give us a real short-cut to where we want to be in F1.”
But this means that Virgin racing will be split between their Dinnington base, the WRT factory in Banbury and the use of McLaren’s facilities in Woking, Surrey, together with the promotional side at Virgin in London.
Effectively, they will soon outgrow their purpose-built Dinnington headquarters – a building less than 18 months old.
Booth added: “Ultimately, long-term we are going to develop a new facility with everything under one roof that will take place over the next couple of years – I guess we’ll be looking for sites somewhere between Rotherham and Oxford.”