Five point one seconds. That was the margin by which the faster of the two Virgin drivers, Timo Glock, was off the pace in the first qualifying session of the 2010 season in Bahrain. It also made Glock the quickest of the six drivers in the three new teams. In the most recent race at Monza, Glock was only 3.5 seconds behind the best time posted in Q1. The comparison is obviously somewhat suspect because of the very different characteristics of the two circuits, but one thing is clear all the same: Virgin Racing have got better as the year has gone on.
Which means that Technical Director Nick Wirth has at least achieved one of his ambitions for this season – to convince the world of Formula One that, even in the top flight of motorsport, it is possible to develop a racing car exclusively by means of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). But Wirth still has his most difficult challenge ahead of him: he has to prove that he can use CFD to build an F1 car that can not only mix it with the other new teams but also compete with the established outfits.
"As regards aerodynamic development, it is perhaps easier for us at the moment to make progress with CFD than with a wind tunnel," says Mark Herd, Head of Performance and Race Engineering at Wirth Research. "We can have two programs running at the same time, whereas with the wind tunnel, you have to decide between your current car and next year's model."
Herd sees the 2010 season as a learning year, at times a very painful learning year: "But we've learnt a lot and fancy our chances against some of the established teams next year." He has Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India in mind. Then it will become apparent whether CFD is a powerful enough tool to win championship points against these teams. But for that to come true, the deficit in the first qualifying session of the 2011 season in Bahrain must be a lot less than 5.1 or even 3.5 seconds.