One of the trends of the 2011 season is seemingly beginning to emerge: sack or force the resignation of your technical director if his name isn’t Adrian Newey.
And now a third candidate is heading for the F1 scrapheap, with Virgin Racing announcing that is has dispensed with Nick Wirth’s services.
And this was always coming…
“The decision has been taken that the team will take greater control of its own destiny,” Virgin Racing CEO Andy Webb told AUTOSPORT in a statement announcing the split.
“Accordingly, having consulted with our existing technical partner during the course of the past few weeks, we have been obliged to terminate our relationship with them.
“I believe that the steps we are taking in terms of our technical leadership and operational excellence will provide us with the robust foundation required to go on and achieve our performance objectives in the years ahead. These are bold but positive steps that will enable us to move forward with confidence.”
The announcement is hardly a surprise, and here’s our take on why…
After finishing last in the Constructors’ Championship standings at the end of debut season last year, Virgin Racing set itself the task of investing more in its engineering capabilities. In came new sponsors and a new investor in sports car maker Marussia Motors.
Last year’s VR-01 earned plenty of raised eyebrows when the team announced it had secured the services of Wirth Research, an organisation headed up by former Benetton chief designer Nick Wirth.
Wirth Research had achieved some acclaim in designing a Le Mans Acura LMP1 chassis without the aid of a wind-tunnel, relying solely on the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics. And it was this exact process that the team and Wirth Research would use to design the VR-01.
But to abandon the use of a wind tunnel entirely – in spite of the obvious cost savings – is simply unheard of in F1. The last team to forego a wind-tunnel in its design process was the Mastercard Lola outfit in 1997, and the team’s T97/30 chassis was miles off the pace before the team collapsed after a solitary race weekend.
It was a huge gamble for Virgin Racing: produce a reasonably competitive car and the team would make the more established outfits look very silly.
But perhaps the problem was the man spearheading the design programme…
Wirth’s F1 design scrapheap: Nick Wirth’s sacking from Virgin Racing is hardly a surprise. This year’s MVR-02 seems to have inherited the same problem as all of his previous F1 designs (above): the cars were simply no good…
As the youngest-ever Fellow of the Royal Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Wirth entered F1 as an aerodynamicist for Leyton House in 1988, working under no less a man than Adrian Newey.
After leaving the team, he was assigned the role of designing a bespoke F1 car for BMW, which was considering an entry into F1 as a constructor in the early 1990s. The project never took off, and Wirth’s designs were instead used as the basis of the 1992 Andrea Moda S921 chassis. Appalling team management and a complete lack of investment killed that outfit, which managed to qualify for just a single race.
With Wirth’s Simtek design organisation steadily growing, he bit the bullet and set up an F1 team which debuted in 1994. Sadly, its S941 challenger – with its design being nearly identical to the Andrea Moda S921 – was uncompetitive and underfunded, and only car in the field with a full manual gearbox!
The following year’s S951 was the exception to the rule,m and positively flew in the hands of Jos Verstappen. But refinements were too frequent, funds dried up and the team was forced to close before the mid-season.
Wirth joined Benetton in 1997, designing the semi-competitive B198 chassis used by the team in 1998 that helped the team to a few podiums. The following year’s 1999 chassis was a pig, and the Wirth-championed Front Torque Transfer system (designed to improving cornering speeds) was dumped because it made a slow and heavy car slower and heavier. Wirth left the team at the end of the year.
As it was, last year’s VR-01 challenger suffered from poor handling and had to undergo an early redesign when it emerged that Wirth hadn’t actually designed a fuel tank large enough to see the car through to the chequered flag.
And this year’s MVR-02 has proven even less competitive, with the team unable to qualify any higher than the tenth row and on the verge of being overtaken by Hispania Racing. Its latest upgrades – all CFD-designed, of course – have failed, not surprisingly, to deliver any tangible benefits, with the car generating little downforce and plenty of downcast faces.
When the team announced that it had called upon the services of Wirth’s old Benetton boss Pat Symonds to help iron out the problems, the writing was seemingly on the wall, although the team continued to insist that its commitment to CFD would come good.
It would seem that a change of heart has finally occurred…