Richard Branson has admitted that he is satisfied with the progress of his new Formula One project after Timo Glock narrowly out-qualified the two Lotus Racing drivers ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The billionaire, who has swapped the front of the grid - after backing Brawn GP and Jenson Button to their respective titles in 2009 - for the back, after taking on naming rights at newcomer Manor Grand Prix's F1 bid, has witnessed a tough off-season for technical director Nick Wirth's all-CFD machine, but enjoyed an early boost after Glock claimed 19th place on the grid for round one in Sakhir.
Comparing the Virgin Racing team to a new-born baby, Branson acknowledged that it would take time before he could enjoy the sort of success his first 'real' foray into F1 had brought, and praised the Dinnington-based squad for its unstinting efforts over the winter.
“Both the car and the team are in their infancy and, like all infants, some of our first steps may falter," he conceded, "But, unlike other teams, when things go wrong, we won't be throwing our toys out of the pram - we'll pick ourselves up and get right back into the playground!
"That's exactly what the team did here in Bahrain today after the setbacks they experienced over the weekend. Not only did we qualify as the fastest of the new teams, we came so close to the more established teams - and on a fraction of their budget. This not only shows the technical brilliance of Nick Wirth and his team, but true grit!"
Branson also admitted that he was prepared for the team to grow into a more mature, competitive outfit, targeting a three to five year timeframe.
"Considering that they have had just a few months to get this far, I think they have done tremendously well," he noted, "Now I feel we are a proper racing team, which is very exciting. We know exactly what our expectations were, set the expectations and, today, they are bang on track."
Having had both drivers miss valuable track time during the three free practice sessions in Bahrain, the Virgin team ended qualifying exactly where it expected to be, with Glock at the head of the 'third division' of new teams and just 2.7secs away from the nearest established teams, Scuderia Toro Rosso. Team-mate Lucas di Grassi qualified 22nd fastest on his F1 debut, sandwiching Lotus' Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.
“It's great to be the best of the new teams here, and I'm very happy with what we have achieved," former Toyota F1 pilot Glock commented, "This is a team result and a credit to everyone who has worked so hard in really difficult circumstances to get the best out of our first race package. To be just 2.7secs away from teams with many more years of experience is even better.