In an example of the Formula 1 new economy, it has been revealed that the cost of retooling the fuel tanks for the Virgin Racing chassis will be covered by Nick Wirth’s company, Wirth Researh, and not the team. While Nick Wirth is the technical director for Virgin, his operation actually has an outsource relationship with team management, as opposed to being an integral part of the team proper.
In fact, the team is segmented into autonomous units according to technical, commercial and operational functions. This, apparently, is de rigueur for Sir Richard Branson’s commercial ventures: it’s a business model that allows him to enjoy maximum branding exposure with a minimum of risk.
The recent fuel tank snafu was the result of a fundamental miscalculation of the capacity that might have been easily avoided. That’s the theory, at any rate. The most that can be said for Virgin is that, being a new team, they had no data draw on from previous years’ performance with their Cosworth engine. Of course, the same can be said of other newbie teams, HRT and Lotus, neither of whom seem to be in the same predicament.
Wirth’s boutique engineering firm will absorb the cost of enlarging the fuel tank within the design parameters of the current chassis, which has, naturally, already been homologated with the FIA. Wirth told Autosport of the situation, “The chassis supplier is us. Nothing to do with engine supplier or fuel supplier. What that means is that we are fixing it for the team. We are ot charging the team. It’s our responsibility to provide cars that can finish a grand prix. It’s down to us.”
While this type of arrangement will flatter the bottom line of the team’s annual budget, one wonders if it sets a dangerous precedent for future design errors that might be attributed to Wirth’s group. Will they always be expected to foot the bill? If so, this could threaten the viability of the team, which seems to occupy a curious nether region somewhere between that of a legitimate car constructor and customer car team.
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