Virgin were the first of the three new teams to begin testing their car. Despite the head start, unreliability dogged the VR-01 and that was ultimately the reason why they ended the season ranked dead last.
There is no prize money for 11th or 12th places, only pride to be salvaged. Having gone into the season talking up their chances of beating Lotus to tenth, finishing last behind HRT was clearly not part of Virgin’s plan.
The damage was done in the opening six races, where Virgin only got their cars to the finish three times from a possible 12. At Australia and Monaco both the red and black cars were halted by technical problems while HRT scooped the extra 14th-placed finishes that made the difference between the two at the end of the season.
This was not necessarily a reflection on Virgin’s pace which was always better than HRT’s and often compared well with Lotus’s.
|Best race result (number)
|Best grid position (number)
|Laps completed (% of total)
|Laps led (% of total)
|Championship position (2009)
|Championship points (2009*)
|*using 2010 system
Virgin’s other problem in the first half of the season was an embarrassing one that belied the rebranded Manor Motorsport team’s shortage of experience at this level.
The car couldn’t carry enough fuel to get to the end of a race without the driver having to slow down to save petrol.
A revised version of the car, dubbed the ‘limo’ as its wheelbase had to be increased to accommodate the larger tank, was readied for the European season.
Unfortunately, due to the air travel disruption caused by the notorious Icelandic volcano, only Timo Glock had the new car in Spain while Lucas di Grassi had to wait another two races for his.
The VR-01’s unique selling point was that it had been designed entirely using computer modelling and simulation. Although the team continued to upgrade the car throughout the season Lotus usually qualified ahead of them. The car enjoyed much better pace on the harder tyres than the softer compounds, which hurt the team in qualifying.
Nonetheless the team made some appearances in the midfield, a highlight being Timo Glock’s exceptional drive in Singapore, keeping the likes of Adrian Sutil’s Force India behind him for several laps. His race was later ruined when the safety car came out at an inopportune moment.
Reliability improved in the second half of the season but was by no means perfected. As their rivals also saw the chequered flag more frequently, Virgin’s opportunities to finish high enough in races to move ahead of HRT in the championship were scarce.
Their best chance came at Korea. Glock, excelling as usual in wet conditions, was running in 12th place when he was hit by the out-of-control Sebastien Buemi.
Team mate di Grassi had fewer opportunities to shine, but got close to Glock in qualifying on occasions.
Life got more difficult for him at the end of the season when he was called upon to surrender his running in first practice to Jerome d’Ambrosio. This was an especially tough call given that di Grassi was making his first appearance at several of the flyaway venues and could have done with the track time.
The nadir of his season was without doubt his monumental crash at Suzuka’s 130R while driving to the grid, ending his participation in the Grand Prix before the race had even started.
With only Glock turning out for the team in the post-season Pirelli test, di Grassi’s future at Virgin looks uncertain.
Virgin boss Richard Branson lost his bet with Lotus’s Tony Fernandes about which of their teams would finish highest.
They are both winners as far as the publicity stunt goes, but the bald fact is no-one enters F1 to finish last, however inexpensively they are running their team. Despite the big-name backer Virgin Racing operated on a shoestring budget compared to even their midfield rivals this year.
The recent news that Russian sports car company Marussia had invested in Virgin, and a major new sponsor had arrived in the shape of Qnet, are welcome signs for the team.
But with Lotus expecting a leap forward next year with Renault engines and Red Bull technology, Nick Wirth’s CFD wizardry needs to produce a faster and more reliable VR-02 for them to keep pace with their fellow 2010 newcomers.
Virgin’s 2010 season in pictures
2010 F1 season review
- The complete F1 Fanatic 2010 season review
- Lewis Hamilton voted best driver of 2010
- The best guest contributions of 2010
- F1 Fanatic’s 50 best articles of 2010
- The 2010 F1 season in 100 pictures
- 2010 F1 driver rankings part four: the top three
- Vote for the best F1 driver of 2010
- 2010 F1 driver rankings part three: 8-4
- 2010 F1 driver rankings part two: 17-9
- 2010 F1 driver rankings part one: 27-18
Images © Virgin Racing