Timo Glock has revealed his fears that Virgin Racing risks flirting with disaster in F1 2011 in terms of sailing dangerously close to the 107 per cent rule in qualifying and therefore potentially missing the cut for grands prix, confessing that performance-wise, the team has 'moved backwards' since last year and that CFD 'could be' the reason why.
It was evident from testing that the new, Cosworth-powered MVR-02 was not the step forward Virgin had hoped it would be – and indeed, far from closing the gap on the likes of traditional midfield contenders Williams, Sauber, Force India F1 and Scuderia Toro Rosso, it had ostensibly even conceded ground to 2010 arch-rival Team Lotus. And then in last weekend's Australian Grand Prix, that was confirmed.
In qualifying, Glock was more than two-and-a-half seconds away from making the Q1 cut, with rookie team-mate Jérôme d'Ambrosio almost a full second slower again. Only the two hopelessly uncompetitive and ill-prepared HRTs were behind the Virgin pair, leaving Glock and d'Ambrosio sharing the very back row of the grid – and matters did not improve any come race day.
Even more worryingly still, the Belgian was a mere four tenths of a second clear of the reintroduced 107 per cent rule this season. Glock warns that unless Virgin improves, and fast, then should the likes of Red Bull Racing and McLaren-Mercedes elect to bolt on a set of super-soft rubber in Q1 – something they did not feel the need to do in Melbourne – he and d'Ambrosio could find themselves in serious difficulties heading forwards.
“Definitely,” the German acknowledged. “At one point, we were 105 [per cent] off, I think, so we had a bit of a margin, but if the other guys put soft tyres on and really go for it in Q1, we will be massively in trouble. The balance of the car is not that bad; simply, we just have not enough downforce and the people in the team have to realise that.
“We went forward [over the winter] in terms of the whole structure of the team. The work from the mechanics and the engineering side is much better than last year, but performance-wise, in my opinion, we moved backwards.
“The others have made massive steps; we are just not able to make these big steps. We didn't believe it in Barcelona [testing], but now it's quite obvious that we are not where we should be. The team has to think about certain things and make changes to get us closer. We cannot continue like this. It's not possible.”
Glock went on to tentatively point the finger at the unconventional aerodynamic doctrine of CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics), a practice heavily championed by Virgin technical director Nick Wirth – but one that none of its F1 rivals feel is the right way to go just yet.
“We have to think about these things now,” the 29-year-old mused, pondering that it 'could be' the root cause of Virgin's problems. “Other teams are using CFD but mixed with the wind tunnel, so we have to come to the point and rethink this.”