Timo Glock, Virgin, Abu Dhabi, 2011

Virgin’s missed opportunity in Canada leaves them last again

2011 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Timo Glock, Virgin, Abu Dhabi, 2011
Virgin were last again in 2011

Poor reliability was the chief reason why Virgin finished last in the championship in their first season.

They finished in the same place this year, but it’s fair to say that misfortune played a greater role in them failing to beat HRT this time.

More often than not, Virgin out-qualified and out-raced their back-of-the-grid rivals in 2011. What ultimately made the difference was a single race: the Canadian Grand Prix.

With six laps to go Timo Glock was running 14th in front of his team mate, the HRTs and Jarno Trulli. But he locked up his tyres, damaged them badly, and fell back.

That allowed Vitantonio Liuzzi to claim the 13th place which made the difference between the two teams at the end of the year. This was despite Virgin having two 14th places and three 15ths. HRT’s next best finish was a single 16th place, which Virgin had three of. It’s a tough world outside the points places in F1.

Virgin team stats 2011

Best race result (number) 14th (2)
Best grid position (number) 19th (3)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 8 (5/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,820 (80.32%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2010) 12th (12th)
Championship points (2010) 0 (0)
Pit stop performance ranking 11th

Virgin’s reliability was measurably better this year: retirements due to technical failures fell from 14 to five (plus one failure to start, also due to a car problem), which was better than Williams, Lotus or HRT managed. Their percentage of laps completed increased from 72.5% last year to over 80%.

However this remained a glitch-prone team which suffered problems in some unusual areas. Such as the pit wall failure in Suzuka which left them without timing information to make their strategy calls.

More alarming was Timo Glock’s rear wing failure in qualifying at Monza, when the Drag Reductions System jammed open. Jerome D’Ambrosio had a suspension failure in practice at Sepang and his front wing failed in China.

Timo Glock, Virgin, Montreal, 2011
A lock-up for Glock in Montreal cost Virgin 11th place

In pure performance terms Virgin fared even worse than last year. By the end of the season it was hard to imagine this was the team that had vied with Lotus on pace for much of last year.

That much was clear in Monza, where retirements offered Virgin their best chance of getting back in front of HRT. Glock finished 15th behind the two Lotuses, 50 seconds adrift of Kovalainen.

Alarm bells were ringing at the first race weekend when the team were more than 7% slower than the fastest time in the first two practice sessions, raising fears they might fail to qualify under the 107% rule. This did not happen, and although the team later fell foul of the rule on more than one occasion, it was usually related to some technical problem, and they always received permission to race.

However they came under increasing pressure from HRT and were out-qualified by their rivals in the final race of the year.

Long before then, technical director Nick Wirth had been shown the door. With him went his radical policy of eschewing wind tunnels and instead modelling the car entirely using computer simulation. One month later, the team concluded a deal with McLaren to use their car development tools including a wind tunnel.

Timo Glock, Virgin, Sepang, 2011
Virgin will become Marussia in 2012

This, and plans to consolidate the team’s disparate bases of operation, should help make the MVR-03 a more competitive proposition. But the impending collapse of the Resource Restriction Agreement is the worse possible news for this tiny team.

Their entry into F1 was originally conceived under Max Mosley’s budget cap. The team then found itself operating under the less restrictive RRA, and even those restrictions now look set to disappear.

Among the other changes coming for next year will be a new name: Marussia. The Russian sports car brand has taken over the team’s entry from Richard Branson’s company.

D’Ambrosio will also not remain with the team – like Lucas di Grassi before him, he loses his seat after his first year in F1.

He compared reasonably well against Glock and although there were crashes in practice in India and Canada it seems harsh to hold those against him when the world champion did much the same. His spin in the pits in Hungary was embarrassing, though.

Jerome d'Ambrosio, Virgin, Korea, 2011
Jerome d'Ambrosio has lost his seat to Charles Pic

He occasionally gave his team mate cause for concern, particularly at Suzuka, where he edged Glock in qualifying on the renowned ‘driver’s track’. He put up a good fight in the last race at Interlagos as well, but the deal to replace him with Charles Pic had already been done and was announced within hours of the chequered flag falling.

Opportunities for Glock to shine were even rarer than they had been last year, though he was thrilled with his qualifying lap in Monaco where he trimmed the deficit to Lotus to half a second, and made an excellent start in Valencia.

Nonetheless Glock has pledged his long-term future to this team which is a bold move for the former GP2 champion given their lack of success so far.

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Images ?? Virgin Racing