Virgin Racing has unveiled its 2010 contender, the VR-01. In keeping with the team’s virtual approach, the car was launched online, via the team’s website, rather than at a formal presentation with press in attendance.
Design director Nick Wirth, who runs the design team from his own shop on outsource basis for Virgin, said of the launch, “Today is a very proud day for everyone involved with Virgin Racing, however on this occasion, where the car is the star, I want to pay tribute to all the amazing people at Wirth Research who deserve so much of the credit for the VR-01. Putting together an F1 team, assembling an engineering group and designing a new car from scratch is an epic task in the time-frame we have been working to. I have been fortunate to have worked with the very best designers in F1 and I am well aware of exactly what it takes to be successful in this sport.”
Wirth Research has been unique in their approach to F1 design, by opting for an absolute reliance on a virtual methods, using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) techniques, and eschewing wind tunnel modeling entirely. While most teams use extensive computer simulation in their design process, they also rely on wind tunnels to further test their computer models. However, Wirth has rejected this time-tested method as being needlessly expensive in relation to the benefits provided.
Wirth acknowledged that the more established teams in F1 have expressed their doubts about this choice. “When you see what the existing teams have achieved using the conventional but proven design approach, it is unsurprising that there is a great deal of skepticism about our all-CFD approach,” Wirth said. “But we are competing in a sport that is undergoing significant change having come face to face with today’s harsh economic realities.
He also expressed his belief that the team would be well-positioned once Formula 1’s resource restriction provisions took effect. As reported in Autosport, Wirth said, “Under resource restriction, convention will become too costly and necessity really will be the mother of invention. I have absolute belief in the digital design process and the opportunity to put the all-CFD approach to the test at the highest level – to demonstrate that this could be the way for the future of F1 – is very, very exciting.”
Wirth also acknowledged that CFD design had its limitations, but was quick to point out that this was true of wind tunnel simulations as well: “CFD is an approximation – as is scale-model testing. In both cases, it is only when you hit the track that you can really appreciate the effect of factors that are tricky to model with any technology such as the effect that the real stiffness of all bodywork components and joints has on the airflow for example.”
But it’s not as though Wirth has never done this before. His team has used CFD simulations to design cars in other formulas, notably the Accura LMP car used in the American Le Mans Series.
Wirth was also realistic about the chances of the fledgling team. While refusing to be pinned down on points-making predictions, he did allow that it was Virgin’s ambition to be the best of the new teams, and stressed that reliability would be their initial target. The car is being given preliminary shakedown runs at Silverstone on Thursday and Friday of this week.