Timo Glock has impressed upon Virgin Racing the importance of avoiding a repetition of its chronically unreliable start to its maiden campaign of F1 competition last year – contending that 'historically, that's when there have always been a lot of crashes and technical problems', and therefore but extension, that it also represents the best opportunity for the team to break its points duck.
Glock failed to finish the first three races of F1 2010 and failed even to start the fourth in China with an engine failure before the lights had gone out, whilst team-mate Lucas Di Grassi saw the chequered flag just once. That was arguably the biggest single factor in Virgin's tenure of the wooden spoon in the constructors' standings come season's end – but a similarly abject start to F1 2011, the German warns, could cost Sir Richard Branson's outfit a rather greater prize.
“I just want to be strong in the first races,” he asserted. “Historically, that's when there have always been a lot of crashes and technical problems – that's where we struggled last year, and where we have to be really strong this year. The goal has to be to finish with both cars, and maybe grab that first point in the first race.”
Looking further ahead, Glock echoes the targets of both Virgin team principal John Booth and technical director Nick Wirth in underlining that the goal has to be to take the fight to F1's traditional midfielders – even if he acknowledges that ambition must be tempered with realism. And after being pipped to the status of most impressive newcomer last year by Lotus, beating Tony Fernandes' boys would be a bonus too, he quips.
“Our aim is to be a step closer to the midfield teams and trying to score points,” the 28-year-old revealed. “An acceptable level would be to be close to teams like Sauber, Scuderia Toro Rosso and maybe even Force India. We were three-to-four seconds off the pace last year, sometimes even more – the same for Lotus – and it's not possible to catch that up over the winter-time.
“The car looks like a good step forward, though – if you put the 2010 car alongside it to compare the two, I think it would be quite obvious – and I think we have a much better baseline this year. Everything is a lot more sorted, but we still have to remain realistic – and realistically for us, I think we need to be two seconds behind the top teams this year, two-and-a-half maybe. That would be great. Lotus have a different budget to us and a lot of experienced people from Toyota – but I hope we are in front of them at the end of the year.”
Admitting that the break from racing 'has been long enough now', Glock confessed that it was tough for him seeing so many of his rivals 'with their new toys' during the opening pre-season group test in Valencia earlier this month – even if he was encouraged by the VR-01's newfound reliability twelve months too late – but when he got his hands on his own new toy at Jerez a week later, by the end of the second day he had already worked his way down to within two seconds of the outright pace.
The former Toyota star also has a new team-mate this year in the shape of GP2 Series graduate Jérôme d'Ambrosio, who he describes as 'a good guy and quick, too' – “His feedback has been quite positive, and he seems to think similarly to me in terms of what direction we should go in set-up wise...that makes life easier for the engineers,” he reflects – and sticking with the topic of everything being new, Glock has offered his thoughts on Virgin's abstention from KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) and on the new moveable rear wing, which he muses could have been made into more of a tactical tool.
“Definitely at the start of races, the lack of KERS will be quite a big disadvantage,” he conceded, “but for us it's more realistic to get everything else sorted and a decent baseline. We're such an inexperienced team and I don't think the team is in the right position to put KERS in now – we don't have the people to really be focussed just on that. Anyway, as a driver you are already busy, but with the others having KERS as well [as everything else], hopefully they will be pressing the wrong buttons...
“I'm not the biggest fan of the way the regulations are [regarding the rear wing]. I had quite a good experience in Champ Cars, with a boost button for 60 seconds a race, a 'push-to-pass'. They could make it the same with the rear wing – if you use it all up in the first part of the race, your chances will be shot. In testing, I think everyone has been using it everywhere, but it will be different in the races themselves – and it could be a bit too easy even to overtake...”