After rumours had swept the Formula 1 paddock, it has now been officially confirmed that award-winning R&D company Wirth Research has tied up a deal with Manor Grand Prix to design and build the Yorkshire-based outfit's maiden challenger in the top flight.
If it was a surprise for some that Manor – most famous for its successes in the F3 Euroseries and Formula Renault UK over the past two decades – was given the nod by the FIA ahead of seemingly better-qualified contenders like Prodrive/Aston Martin and Lola, then the link with Wirth perhaps helps to shed some light upon the selection.
Together with FIA President Max Mosley, Wirth Research technical director Nick Wirth launched engineering consultancy firm Simtek (short for Simulation Technology) back in 1989, initially conducting wind tunnel construction and chassis-building for third parties in the top flight before entering in its own right in 1994.
Simtek Grand Prix only lasted 20 races, however, before folding due to financial issues, and there was tragedy along the way with the death of Roland Ratzenberger in qualifying for the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, following a front wing failure at 190mph. It was only the team's third race and came just a day before the death of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna.
Wirth, though, has retained a high estimation within the F1 world, and from 1996 to 1999 was the chief designer for Benetton. After more than a decade's absence, he is now set to return with Manor Grand Prix, with Wirth Research having come to a long-term agreement to exclusively design, develop and supply the team's car and provide wide-ranging engineering support for the project.
The services will be provided by WR Technology Ltd as well as Wirth Research, with Digital Flow Solutions, its innovative sister company, specialising in computer-based aerodynamic development.
“Up until recently even my closest friends and family would have confirmed that I had no interest in making a return to designing Formula 1 cars,” confessed Wirth, going on to explain that he had been tempted back into the fray by Mosley's radical and contentious £40 million budget cap initiative.
“It's only with the exciting possibilities of cost constraints, with a refreshing new emphasis on design ingenuity and resource efficiency, that Formula 1 has now become a viable and fascinating new challenge for Wirth Research, and we will make sure it has all of the race-winning components that our previous cars have enjoyed.
“We see this project as a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the quality of our work and increase our range of technology and engineering capacity to the benefit of all our existing and potential clients beyond Formula 1. As the project evolves, we hope to continue to demonstrate the benefits of our unique approach to Development in the Digital Domain.”