Features - 2011 Grand Prix Review
JANUARY 1, 2012
Marussia Virgin Racing
BY TONY DODGINS
Pos 12: Marussia Virgin Racing
Timo Glock (D) & Jerome D'Ambrosio (B)
Points: 0; Best finish: 14th, Australian GP
Statistically, Marussia Virgin Racing finished below HRT in the final championship classification, thanks to a higher attrition rate in Montreal that allowed Tonio Liuzzi to get the HRT home 13th, one place better than Jerome D'Ambrosio's finish in Melbourne.
In reality, although hamstrung by a disappointing lack of performance from the MVR02 on track, the team made strides operationally.
"The season was painless compared to 2010, believe me!" says straight-talking team principal John Booth. "It was bloody great -- I walk in, the cars are there on the stands, ready to go on time, the lads are finished before the curfew, we're starting to catch up with the pit stop technology, great it was...
"Back in 2010, from the first test in Jerez to Monaco, Monte Carlo was the first time the lads had some time off. It wasn't until Singapore that I walked into the paddock and thought, okay we're adding something to the show now, we're not just a laughing stock.
"I used to call it the walk of doom in the morning: coming in through the turnstiles and having to walk all the way down the pitlane, dragging my briefcase along..."
The team did the first '11 test in Valencia with the old car on Pirelli tyres and looked okay, with Nick Wirth saying that the new car could be up to two seconds quicker. But when it appeared it looked as if the performance had actually gone backwards.
"On-circuit or from the onboard footage, it didn't look horrible," Booth explains, "but we lacked corner entry speed, which was downforce and exhaust technology. The performance wasn't anywhere near where it should have been."
The next great hope was the Turkey upgrade, which featured a revised floor, new front wing, higher nose and a rudimentary attempt at a blown exhaust, although with just CFD and no wind tunnel, the team was unable to map the airflow properly. There was little noticeable difference.
"It was at that point our investors said we had to go in a different direction," Booth says. "Perhaps we were trying to do something that isn't possible with CFD. Until we could control our own destiny it was difficult to see a way forward."
The team split with Wirth Research and over the next couple of months negotiated a technical collaboration with McLaren, Booth having a strong relationship with Martin Whitmarsh dating back to the days when Manor Motorsport ran Lewis Hamilton. They commissioned Pat Symonds to put together a design team, comprising mainly people who were already at the Banbury HQ.
Marussia started using the McLaren wind tunnel at the end of October and although that's a late start for 2012 car, it should pay dividends as the year progresses and developments are brought.
The team will also benefit from a bespoke new factory that brings together most team operations under one roof. By the time vacancies are filled the numbers will be over 200.
"That's still small compared to most," Booth admits, "but is the structure Pat wants. Ours is a much broader technical partnership with McLaren and I think the Force India one is more specific."
In 2012, however, Virgin will be the only team on the grid without a KERS system, with HRT having extended its Williams gearbox/hydraulics agreement to include the power-boosting device.
"Don't get me going on KERS!" Booth says. "The ®®œ®®£5-8m cost... we could get a wind tunnel running for that, which would be worth a lot more than four tenths from where we are. If you're looking for that last four tenths, fine, but that ®®œ®®£8m would be a massive boost to our development budget. KERS is the biggest waste of money there's been in F1 since active suspension."
For the moment, he may be right, but from the start of the new engine regulations in 2014, KERS will be ten times more influential than it is now. That though, is something for the future.
Booth was delighted to secure the continuation of Timo Glock's services. "One, he's a bloody great driver, and two, it would be nice for him to see it through after taking the pain. It gave the garage a boost to see that Timo has faith in the way we are going. There's no question in my mind that he's a top eight driver. Drop him into a Red Bull and he'd be right up there."
Glock is joined in 2012 by Charles Pic, the 21-year-old Frenchman twice a GP2 race winner with Barwa Addax last season. Pic's race simulation work at the recent Abu Dhabi young driver test particularly impressed the team.