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Virgin 'virtual' Formula 1 challenger becomes reality

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Virgin launch 'virtual' VR-01 F1 car

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Racing Formula 1 team has become the first of the new entrants to unveil a car.

Called the VR-01, it breaks new ground by being designed, built and tested entirely on computer, bypassing the F1 convention of using wind tunnels.

"There is scepticism about our approach," admitted designer Nick Wirth. "But I have absolute belief in the digital design process."

The car will have its first run on Thursday at Silverstone.

Computer simulation is used by all F1 teams, but until today it has always been applied in tandem with data generated by scale models in expensive wind tunnels.

The VR-01 is the first entirely digital F1 car - and Wirth is adamant that it points to the sport's future.

"We are competing in a sport that is undergoing significant change having come face to face with today's harsh economic realities," said Wirth. "Convention will become too costly and necessity really will be the mother of invention.

The first reaction is that it's a really nice car

Timo Glock
Virgin F1 driver

"To the test this at the highest level is very, very exciting.

"We fully expect to encounter issues along the way. CFD (computational fluid dynamics) is an approximation, as is scale-model (wind-tunnel) testing. 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.

"We are a serious team with serious ambitions. We won't run before we can walk."

Wirth has met with success in American sports car racing using this cost-cutting, hi-tech method. But it is unproven in F1, where aerodynamics is more complicated because of the turbulent air generated by the cars' exposed wheels.

Drivers Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi have been 'driving' the VR-01 on a simulator for two months, and Wirth is confident the car will feel instantly familiar to them when they take it on the track.

This week's two-day test at Silverstone will be carried out by Glock before Virgin Racing join the other teams at Jerez in Spain next week.

"The first reaction is that it's a really nice car," said Glock. "I think we have some good ideas on the car. But now for us it is important that it is here and ready.

Virgin Racing's Nick Wirth and Sir Richard Branson
Virgin F1 car designer Nick Wirth and team owner Sir Richard Branson

"That's where the team did just a great job. The mechanics have been working 24 hours the last couple of days."

It has taken 10 months for this 'virtual' car to become a reality.

Wirth Research in Bicester had the monocoque's design locked down just 12 days after the team's 2010 entry was accepted.

"It's just an amazing job that everyone has done to get it to this point, on time and on budget," said technical director Wirth.

The VR-01's unveiling in Leighton Buzzard was an emotional moment for team principal John Booth, too.

"I am immensely proud. Blown away," said Booth. "When it rolled out of the workshop yesterday, in all its glory, it was a very special moment," said Booth.

"I have always had the utmost confidence in Nick to design a good race car, just as he has the faith in the race team to make a good job of operating it."

The car shuns the dorsal fin used by McLaren and Sauber and instead its engine cover tapers to a rear wing that has no central strut.

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Its nose follows the current trend by being higher than those seen in 2009, but it is needle-shaped as opposed to the more common blunt-front approach.

Wirth promises constant updates once the season has started and the car is running reliably.

The car is powered by a Cosworth CA2010 engine, the famous Northampton-based company returning to F1 after a three-season absence.

Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin group, said: "What a car! Nick and his design team have done an incredible job. It's been fantastic to be part of this journey almost from the very beginning.

"I'm sure we will be measured by how fast the car is at Jerez next week, but I hope that doesn't overshadow the far bigger achievement of pulling an entire racing team together and taking a brave step that defies convention.

"I can't help but feel very excited about what we can go on to achieve in the years ahead."



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see also
Wednesday's F1 test as it happened
03 Feb 10 |  Formula 1


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