Nick Wirth has claimed that some of the established F1 teams are hoping Virgin Racing 'fall flat on our faces' in 2010 for having had the brazen audacity to take them on at a fraction of the cost – and, worse still, genuinely believe that in time they can beat the sport's traditional grandees.
Whilst concern has been expressed in a number of quarters regarding the state of the F1 2010 newcomers on the eve of the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix
at Sakhir this weekend, the most vocal in its disapproval has undoubtedly been Ferrari. The Scuderia
used the 'Horse Whisperer' section of its website several weeks ago to denigrate and pour vitriol upon the efforts of Virgin, Lotus, Hispania (HRT) and the ultimately unsuccessful USF1 and Stefan GP bids, contending that those teams that do make it will merely 'limp into the start of the championship' [see separate story – click here
Virgin, Lotus and HRT, of course, all initially signed up on the understanding that a strict £40 million budget cap would be imposed this year – a controversial initiative that has since been postponed and may yet be scrapped altogether. Such a dramatic manner of cost-cutting was fervently opposed by Ferrari
right from the start – and both Virgin's innovative technical director Wirth and the brand's figurehead Richard Branson suggest the Maranello-based outfit has done all in its power to scupper the new entrants' chances, perhaps out of fear that when a level playing field is in force across the board and it can no longer simply flex its superior financial muscle to get ahead, the Prancing Horse will find itself coming off second-best to rivals better able to implement their resources.
“If we spent the same money as the traditional teams on aerodynamics, we would have doubled our entire R&D budget,” Wirth told the BBC
, alluding to the fact that Virgin's maiden contender, the Cosworth-powered VR-01, is the first car in F1 history to have been completely designed by the sophisticated and highly-advanced computer-based technology CFD (computational fluid dynamics) rather than with the help of an expensive wind tunnel. “I think a lot of the establishment teams will want us to fall flat on our faces.”
As a man famously fond of pulling off giant-killing exploits, Branson is clearly revved-up by the prospect of eventually taking the fight to the sport's big boys and historical front-runners and breaking their stranglehold on proceedings – and if the billionaire British entrepreneur is well aware that success will come far from overnight, he equally is convinced that Virgin will
get there in the end.
“Ferrari already won the battle to make sure that new teams are shackled,” the 59-year-old blasted. “I think the one thing the Virgin team will prove is that you can have a really good racing team, running very fast, within a very tight budget.
“In everything we've done, we've always been the underdog – whether it's taking on British Airways or building a spaceship to take on NASA. I find it exciting that we've hired 200 new people [and] set them a task of building a new car and starting from scratch. I think if we finish top of the new teams [in 2010], that would be okay for us.”
Branson could perhaps seek some words of advice from former independent team owner-turned-BBC F1
pundit Eddie Jordan, who has confessed that 'not in a million years' would he do it all over again, with the highs being counter-balanced by the inevitable lows on the occasions when David loses rather than wins his unequal duel with the mighty Goliath.
“I was lucky,” the Irishman mused, reflecting on the fortunes of his eponymously-named Jordan Grand Prix outfit, which triumphed in four races overall and achieved a best placing of third in the constructors' championship in 1999, before slowly falling from competitiveness and finally being sold out to Midland F1 in 2005. “I had capable people to take care of the technical side of things. That allowed me to focus on the commercial side – the marketing, the sponsorship, the contractual side.
“If you don't have a wealthy benefactor, you will need the necessary resources from commercial opportunities such as sponsorship to survive. Stress is one thing – that's normal. It's the distress that I could have done without, and believe me there was plenty of that!”