For UNI-Virtuosi, the aims are simple: bring through new talent and win trophies. So, after two years of falling agonisingly short in the Teams’ title fight, the 2019 and 2020 runners-up are more driven than ever to reclaim a trophy that they last won in 2017 - back when they were still under the guise of RUSSIAN TIME.
Yet to win the Championship under the name UNI-Virtuosi, the British outfit fell just 39.5 points short of PREMA Racing last year and 71 points off DAMS the year prior. At the time of writing, they’re 37 points off leaders PREMA, in second.
On paper, they’ve been the most consistent team on the grid, with a mega tally of 33 podiums over the past three seasons – seven more than anyone else. They also have the joint-most wins and the most pole positions.
So, after two years of finishing second, and visible year-one-year improvement, what more can they do to win?
“It’s about making the most of every opportunity,” says Paul Devlin, one of three Virtuosi co-owners “Making sure we are ready for that last minute pitstop, making sure we are ready for those last-minute decisions, making sure we are as organised and prepared as we can possibly be. We need to be giving the drivers, the engineers and the mechanics the best support that we can.
“It all comes down to attention to detail. We have worked hard on the car every single year, but with every passing season, we've had that car a bit longer, so we know more about it. That makes you push even harder, because you are trying to find those small gains, and it becomes all about attention to detail.
“That, and the way we work with the drivers. We can engineer the car, but if it doesn't suit the driver, then they can't drive it, so we work very hard on making sure it suits our drivers.”
We have got a lot of experience within the team, and we all have a huge amount of respect for each other
Based in the rural county of Norfolk, Virtuosi have built up an increasingly stable operation, with very few personnel changes in past half a decade.
“We have been very lucky to have kept consistency throughout the team,” continued Devlin. “Keeping the team together has been key to our strength. We have got a lot of experience within the team, and we all have a huge amount of respect for each other. We all bounce off each other and it works well.
“That way, each year we can focus on that attention to detail that I mentioned. With every year we can ramp that up a little bit more, from the engineering side right through to the technical side. It gets stronger and stronger and more and more focused.”
Another long-standing member of the team is Alpine test driver Guanyu Zhou who is in his third season with Virtuosi and is currently second in the Championship, five points behind Oscar Piastri.
Devlin and the team have overseen Zhou’s rise from the highest placed rookie in 2019 to one of the primary title challengers this year.
And while he has fallen to second in the standings at Silverstone, the Chinese racer has led every other round this season. He also has more wins under his belt in 2021 than anyone else and he enjoyed his first official Formula 1 outing at the Austrian Grand prix, when he ran for Alpine in place of Fernando Alonso in FP1.
Overseeing that development is a particular area of pride for Virtuosi, who back themselves to turn exciting junior talent into fully fledged stars.
“He is a part of the team, and he gets on well with all of the boys,” said Devlin on Zhou. “We all enjoyed seeing him take part in FP1 with Alpine. There was a picture that went around social media of Zhou as a child and he was waving a Fernando Alonso flag, so to see him driving his car, that was great. It is a fantastic journey that he has been on with us.
“I believe we've created a good name for ourselves when it comes to developing drivers, it’s something that we pride ourselves on. Zhou was a rookie when he joined us, and now we are sat here, and he is fighting for the Championship. As a team, that’s really rewarding.”
Although they’ve previously won the teams’ crown, back in 2017 with Luca Ghiotto and Artem Markelov, Virtuosi have yet to take a driver to the title. Although Markelov, Ghiotto and Callum Ilott have all come close.
Zhou was a rookie when he joined us, and now we are sat here, and he is fighting for the Championship
The latter of those extremely so, with Ilott missing out to Mick Schumacher in the final round by just 14 points, despite leading for large parts of the season.
Ilott has since departed to take on a reserve role with Alfa Romeo, and Virtuosi opted to replace the Briton with Felipe Drugovich. The Brazilian was a revelation with MP Motorsport in 2020, stepping up after a difficult year in Formula 3 to take four podiums, including three victories.
Although the 21-year-old has yet to hit quite the same heights so far this year as he continues to adjust, he’s scored points more often than not.
As with every year, Virtuosi believe this is the pairing to end their brief title drought.
“We always believe we are putting the package together to win,” continued Devlin. “What we do on the cars, our engineering, our driver selection - it is all about winning.
“We have just missed out in the last couple of years. In fact, in the last four or five years we've never been too far away. We've won the title before, and we want to win again. That’s what we all do this for.
I believe we've created a good name for ourselves when it comes to developing drivers, it’s something that we pride ourselves on
“When we won the Teams' Championship, it was a fantastic feeling. We all have this bond, and we are all here to be the best. Winning the Teams’ and Drivers’ Championships is important to us.
“We have run strongly in both championships, but we have won the Teams’ Championship before, so to have the Drivers’ title under our belt as well would be good, especially with Zhou, someone we took on as a rookie and have enjoyed the journey with.”