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GP Week : Issue 119
Wickens joins Virgin as reserve driver CANADA’S Robert Wickens has been added to Virgin Racing’s reserve driver roster for the remainder of the 2011 season, joining Japan’s Sakon Yamamoto as back-ups for race drivers Timo Glock and Jérôme d’Ambrosio. The Toronto-born 22-year-old is currently battling for the Renault World Series title having finished runner-up in GP3 last year and Formula 2 in 2009. As part of his reserve driver role, Wickens will attend all Grands Prix that don’t clash with his Renault World Series season, meaning he will be at all races bar the Japanese Grand Prix which takes place on the same weekend as the World Series finale in Barcelona. “I am delighted to be confirmed as a Reserve Driver with Marussia Virgin Racing. It’s an exciting time for me and Canadian motorsport,” Robert said after Friday’s announcement. “The support of Marussia Motors and the Marussia Virgin Racing team has been fantastic, and I am dedicated to repaying that faith in me by contributing everything I can to assist the team’s objectives in Formula One this year.” Team principal John Booth said he was impressed by Wickens’ performances so far this year which has seen him take one victory and three second places to be just one point behind the championship leader. “Robert Wickens is a very impressive young driver who is currently going great guns in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, so we are delighted to welcome him to Marussia Virgin Racing’s roster of Reserve Drivers,” said Booth. VIRGIN Racing’s poor start to the season has prompted the team to terminate its contract with technical director Nick Wirth following a board meeting during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. Wirth and his firm Wirth Research (WR) have been at the helm of the Virgin operation since its entrance into Formula One in 2010, but have failed to lift it from the back of the grid and have even faced competition from the ill- prepared HRT at times this year. Virgin Racing CEO Andy Webb confirmed in a statement last week that they have parted company with Wirth as the team looks to take the technical development of its car into their own hands: “ The decision has been taken that the team will take greater control of its own destiny,” said Webb. “Accordingly, having consulted with our existing technical partner during the course of the past few weeks, we have been obliged to terminate our relationship with them. I believe that the steps we are taking in terms of our technical leadership and operational excellence will provide us with the robust foundation required to go on and achieve our performance objectives in the years ahead.” Virgin came into 2011 hoping to break into the midfield group from the very start of the year but have so far failed to qualify any higher than 20th on the grid. Team Lotus, their main rivals in 2010, have extended their advantage in 2011, while minnows HRT have managed to close in and challenge the Wirth-designed cars at some Grands Prix. Wirth’s debut season with Virgin in 2010 featured many low points too, the first coming before the season even started when they realised the fuel tank was not large enough to complete a race distance. Wirth absorbed the cost of redesigning the car to fit a bigger fuel tank, and despite continuing to develop their car until the very last race, they failed to close in on Lotus. Former Renault engineering director Pat Symonds conducted a complete review of the team recently, from which Wirth’s departure was the result. As a shareholder of the team, it is not understood what Wirth’s involvement with the team will be in the future, or if he will sell his shares. For now the focus at Virgin will be on finding a new technical director for the 2012 campaign. Symonds has been banned from a direct role in F1 until the end of 2012 because of his role in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix scandal, but first on Virgin’s list may be Williams technical director Sam Michael who will be leaving the Grove team at the end of the season. Former Ferrari technical director Aldo Costa may also be on the market, although he is now part of the Scuderia’s road car division. Virgin Racing parts ways with technical director Nick Wirth 10