One might have been right up at the sharp end of proceedings and the other mired down at the bottom of the order in the F1 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir, but still Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson contends that his eponymously-named outfit can 'one day' go on to 'overtake' Red Bull Racing in performance terms in the top flight.
Whilst Red Bull had looked to be on-course for a peerless lights-to-flag victory in the desert kingdom until the a faulty spark plug in the Renault engine in the back of Sebastian Vettel's RB6 decided otherwise, the Cosworth-powered Virgin Racing VR-01 machines of Timo Glock and F1 rookie Lucas Di Grassi dropped out of the fray before a third of the race had even been completed, suffering respectively from gearbox woes and a loss of hydraulic pressure.
Not only that, but the German-Brazilian pair had had only the two Lotus entries of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli to play with pace-wise, as the new boys languished on average some four-to-five seconds shy of the front-running pace – but still Branson remains adamant that notwithstanding its comparatively limited financial means, the fledgling Virgin Racing concern can 'do a Red Bull' and get on terms with the sport's traditional grandees, perhaps even more quickly still.
The energy drinks-backed operation only came into existence in F1 back in 2005 when it took over what had been an uncompetitive Jaguar proposition – and taking inspiration from the Milton Keynes-based squad's impressive progress, British billionaire Branson contends that when costs do dramatically come down across the board in 2012 as is expected to occur, Virgin will be in the perfect position to take advantage.
“Look at Red Bull, who were ahead of Ferrari [in Bahrain], which is fantastic, for all of their talk,” the 59-year-old is quoted as having said by Planet-F1
, making no secret of his glee that the Scuderia
was not at the top of the pecking order in Sakhir, having very publicly denigrated the efforts of the new teams in the build-up to the season.
“One day, hopefully, Virgin will overtake Red Bull. You've got to start somewhere, and we have a couple of hundred people enjoying the challenge. If the rules are adhered to and everyone comes within the £40 million budget we're working to this year, in a couple of years' time we will know how to run a team at that level.
“The other teams will have to come down to that, so things will start equalling out. Yes, they'll still have quite a few more years under their belt, but we've a lot of guys with a lot of experience here. We're hoping three-to-five years [to be challenging], rather than five years. Who is to know? But you have to aim for it.”
Branson's conviction is supported by the Bicester and Dinnington-based squad's pioneering technical director Nick Wirth, who is endeavouring to prove this year that the future direction of racing car design lies in radical computer simulations rather than expensive wind tunnels, with the VR-01 entirely the product of CFD (computational fluid dynamics).
“I genuinely think it can be achieved,” the former Simtek owner underlined. “We have a very ambitious development programme going on, [though] I wouldn't want to tell you how many seconds we're going to put on the car this year. Richard knows that, and it would be a record if we could achieve it, particularly within the budget.
“People talk about how much McLaren sped up last year, and we think we can do some fairly impressive things – despite this rigid budget we're working to – and progress from there. We're really proud and excited about taking this forward.
“When we were having our hydraulic problems [during pre-season testing], Richard was on the 'phone and was quite active. He was concerned we were having issues and wanted to know how we were fixing it, and got quite involved in that process. It's great to have someone whose name is on the team, who is interested and passionate about it. It's wonderful for us to work together, taking the first steps towards our joint goals.”