John Booth has reflected upon his maiden campaign of top flight competition at the helm of F1 2010 newcomer Virgin Racing, acknowledging that the team was 'naïve' when it joined the grand prix grid and swiftly received 'a wake-up call', that he 'could never have imagined how tough it would be' – but ultimately, that 'the rewards are worth the challenge'.
Virgin – originally Manor Motorsport when it made its successful entry bid – joined F1 last year in company with Lotus Racing and Hispania Racing (HRT), and whilst it was at the outset the quickest of the three rookies, it concluded proceedings holding the wooden spoon in the constructors' standings due largely to poor early reliability, and having slipped behind Lotus in terms of raw pace.
It was a trying campaign for all concerned, and Booth admits that the lessons taken away from it are manifold – but echoing Timo Glock's assertion that the team is now infinitely better-prepared heading into its sophomore season in F1 2011 [see separate story – click here
], the Yorkshireman concedes that the growing pains were all part-and-parcel of the package that he and his boys signed up to, and that he doesn't regret a thing.
“This time last year, we were naïve,” he candidly confessed, “and we got a bit of a wake-up call. We could never have imagined how tough it would be – it was just one thing after another to the point where it looked impossible – but once you start a fight, you can't stop. You just have to keep going. If we could have had 18 months' planning we would have been much better, but we only had six.
“It was a very exciting ride, and the biggest challenge of my motor racing career – nothing compares to this. The rewards are worth the challenge, and by mid-season it was like, 'what a great place to be...we're one of the twelve!' There have been endless lessons learned – you couldn't even start to list them. The one thing we did get pretty right straightaway, though, was the team we put together, as you could see from the way people bonded and gelled – and politically, we handled it quite well, I think.
“By Valencia, we saw a bit of light. Certainly in Singapore, I looked up and for the first time I thought 'we're here in F1, and proud to be here'. It was massive for me. I've always enjoyed motorsport, and as I look back now, I think it's important to start enjoying F1 too.”
Booth also put in a plug for the unconventional aerodynamic doctrine of CFD – as championed by Virgin's technical director Nick Wirth – and when it is pointed out to him that some F1 team principals raise themselves up on a pedestal away from the minions underneath them, he responds simply that he has always regarded himself as just one of the boys.
“We think CFD is pretty much the only way to survive as a team now,” the 56-year-old asserted. “We didn't have manufacturer backing last year, so it was the most considered way forward for us. Several instances throughout the year – particularly Silverstone – really reinforced our belief in CFD.
“Most of the team bosses became team bosses in very different times, when there was a lot of money in F1. There still is, but over the previous ten years there had been an obscene
amount of money. Different people enjoy different things, and I enjoy spending time with the guys.”