John Booth has affirmed that Virgin Racing's principal target in F1 2011 has to be to regularly find its way into the Q2 phase of qualifying, what he describes as 'where we need to be' – as he admits that the greater involvement in the team of new title sponsor Marussia this year has 'given us a future'.
The newly-renamed Marussia Virgin Racing launched its 2011 MVR-02 contender in London earlier this month, and during its first test at Jerez in southern Spain, the car showed glimpses of potential. Team principal Booth is a dyed-in-the-wool racer through-and-through, and he concedes that in addition to Graeme Lowdon now taking care of the political side of things – 'luckily, Graeme loves all the stuff I hate!' he quips – and with Nick Wirth firmly in charge of technical matters, the new partnership has relieved the pressure upon his shoulders somewhat.
“Marussia has given us a future,” he underlined, paying tribute, also, to new Virgin Racing CEO Andy Webb who he says has 'really strengthened the business' and explaining that all of the key team members are now focussed on their own particular areas of expertise. “We're no longer planning from one week to the next. We can plan for five years now – it's just given us that stability. They're genuinely very nice people. Andrei Tscheglakov is a self-made man, not an oligarch, and he is not investing in this team for a bit of a whim – he really wants us to grow.”
The first step of that growth needs to be a sensible move up the pecking order this season, and having done battle with fellow newcomers Lotus Racing and Hispania Racing (HRT) in 2010, the Yorkshireman is well aware that the expectations for Virgin twelve months on must be to start making some inroads into the sport's traditional midfielders, the Saubers and Scuderia Toro Rossos of this world. Lead driver Timo Glock has stressed that early reliability is pivotal [see separate story – click here
] – but Booth is confident the team will not let the German down.
“By Abu Dhabi [last year], we started getting confident in our reliability,” he expressed, with Glock having completed more mileage on the final day of the 2011 Valencia test than he did during Virgin's entire pre-season F1 2010 preparations. “A lot of this year's mechanical parts are already tried-and-tested as far as we are concerned. Maybe it's not the most exciting, but it works for us.
“Our first target is regular spots in Q2. We achieved it a couple of times in 2010 and it was a great feeling, but there was [usually] a gap last year, and we were looking to be at the front of the six new cars. The guy from one of the established teams who dropped out in Q1 was still a fair chunk ahead of us.
“It's not good enough to be top of that little pile anymore – we've got to be in Q2. Whether it's a Ferrari or an HRT behind us doesn't matter – it's where we need to be. Last year, we were regularly two to two-and-a-half seconds away from making Q2, so two seconds is the minimum step to start challenging, and from that platform we can then build from there.”
Booth went on to explain why Virgin will not be running with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) this season – 'We don't believe it is very efficient at the moment, and it's way outside our budget...there isn't one factor that ticks the box; if we had £7 million to waste, it wouldn't be on KERS, it would be on a bigger step,' he underlines – and also reveals what he expects from Glock and new team-mate Jérôme d'Ambrosio in 2011.
“Timo is a racer, and he pushes himself incredibly hard,” the 56-year-old acknowledged. “He pushes me hard and pushes the whole team hard, too. He has contributed massively to the team we have become, and he is in such good spirits at the moment and really fired-up and raring to go.
“Jérôme excelled in all four Friday sessions he did for us last year, in particular the first one in Singapore. It was a night race, it was raining and all the TV cameras were there waiting for him to make a mistake – but he didn't make any mistakes. It was the same in all four tests – he acquitted himself very well.”