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Motor Racing

Virgin Racing director hits out at F1 figure

The brains behind Virgin Racing has taken a pot-shot at one of the most senior figures in Formula One.

The team's technical director Nick Wirth is returning to F1 after a 10-year hiatus after becoming disillusioned with the sport, having previously run the Simtek team and spent four years at Benetton as chief designer and aerodynamicist.

The 43-year-old quit F1 and set up his own company, Wirth Research, successfully developing cars for the Indy Car Series and American Le Mans Series.

Enthused by F1's new budget restrictions, Wirth has spearheaded Manor GP's push into the top echelon of motor racing, and the team was yesterday officially rebranded as Virgin Racing, with entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson firmly involved.

No-one at Virgin Racing is expecting a major impact in year one, and there are have been critics, such as Williams' respected chief of engineering Patrick Head who believes teams like Virgin are heading for a fall.

That prompted a remarkable retort from Wirth, who said: "Patrick is used to falling because he has fallen from winning, which is probably why he is saying that.

"He has also unwisely invested in two wind tunnels which are a bit archaic.

"But we've done enough due diligence on this programme, and there is no doubt it works, and no doubt the technology is right.

"We've 120 people in engineering and two simulators working on the F1 project, and a huge computational resource.

"I can tell you right now how fast our car will go around Barcelona - I won't, but I can.

"We know exactly where we are, but what we don't know is where everyone else is going to be.

"All I want to ensure is wherever we are in the first grand prix in Bahrain (in mid-March), from there we show a rate of development throughout the year with our process."

Wirth uses digital technology to design and test his cars, rather than spending millions of pounds on running wind tunnels and using parts that have failed to improve performance.

While his methods have worked in ALMS, it remains to be seen whether he can reproduce such success in F1.

"What I've learned in the intervening 10 years is how to design cars in a really efficient way," said Wirth.

"But I knew we needed a race team to make this work, and the guys at Manor represented exactly what I'd been looking for.

"When you go into battle, and you look left and right, you need guys who are damn good at their jobs, and they are good.

"Then you have Sir Richard who brings credibility. When I was at Simtek I never had a partner like this in Virgin who want to make things happen and are so passionate.

"So all the elements this time are right, and I'm just so excited, proud and confident we can make it work as we have people who understand business and understand racing. It's a great feeling."