A step too far: Virgin Racing revert back to wind power
June 2, 2011
I was sorry to hear that Virgin Racing have ended their partnership with Wirth Research and will now be moving away from 100% CFD design and back to the wind tunnel. I always saw it as a bold move, the kind of thing we would associate with the entrepreneurial ethos of Virgin, but it proved to be a step too far for the team and their sponsors. It is, after-all, a business venture and if the team is moving back towards HRT, which is where their performance seems to be going this year, then something had to be done. It seems that the obvious step is to go back to the more expensive and less environmentally friendly approach of using a wind tunnel in combination with their exisiting CFD capability.
Virgin now have to recreate their organisation for the second time in three years. It reminds me very much of the challenge that Paul Stewart Racing faced when they morphed into Stewart Grand Prix, like Virgin’s original incarnation – Manor Racing – they knew how to go racing, to find drivers and sponsors, and to set up a car, but they had never done the really tricky bit – design and manufacture their own car. The Virgin model of effectively outsourcing the design and development of the car to Wirth Research was innovative, but appears not to have worked, it is always problematic when the design operation is separated from the racing one. Ferrari faced a similar problem in the eighties and nineties when John Barnard set up first the Guildford Technical Office (GTO) in the UK in the eighties, which then became Ferrari Design and Development (FDD) in the nineties. When Jean Todt arrived in 1993 he formed the view that to build a championship winning car they all had to be located in one place. And so at the end of 1996 they parted company with FDD and had to create a totally new design operation from scratch in Maranello for which they recruited Michael Schumacher’s old team mates Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, but of course this was only the design part, Ferrari were already building the cars at Maranello, at Virgin they, like Stewart, will have to create the entire process needed to design and build an F1 car from start to finish. There is a common thread between the Ferrari challenge and that of Virgin Racing, Pat Symonds who will be leading the work on the 2012 Virgin, worked with Brawn and Byrne at Benetton (and with Byrne at Benetton’s predecessor – Toleman), he is one of an increasingly rare breed of technical director, someone who really does understand the whole package and how all the different elements are brought together to bring results on the track, it will be good to see him back in F1 soon. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the 2012 Virgin performs even if it is developed partly by using a wind tunnel.