Timo Glock has conceded that Virgin Racing is heading into the F1 2011 World Championship campaign on the back foot following a tough time of things during testing - and he is pinning his hopes for a discernible improvement on an upgrade for the first of the European outings in Istanbul in May.

On the evidence of what has been seen at Jerez and Barcelona, the Cosworth-powered, CFD-designed MVR-02 has been far from the step forward the team had been hoping for - and rather than leapfrogging fellow F1 2010 newcomer Team Lotus and narrowing the gap on the midfield competitors, if anything, Virgin has lost vital ground to its closest rival and fallen even further away from its goal of regularly breaking into Q2.

What's more, Glock was forced to sit out the entire final week of testing after having his appendix removed, denying him vital time in the cockpit. Ahead of the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend, the 29-year-old German acknowledged that on the face of things right now, there is precious little reason for cheer.

"I have to say our lap times do not look good," the former Toyota star told spox.com. "Compared to Lotus, we are lagging behind quite a bit on the long runs. We are definitely a bit off where we wanted to be, and I can only hope that our technical director Nick Wirth can give us a good car for the fourth race in Turkey."

"The last three weeks have been less than ideal, as I lost a lot of crucial track time," he added. "I spent a lot of time over the winter getting ahead of the curve with my fitness, though, and now I am thankful for that as I haven't suffered as much as I could have. I've been doing a lot of cycling in particular, and I'm pretty pleased with where I'm at, all things considered.

"[Melbourne is] an incredible place to start the season. The Australian Grand Prix is one of the best races on the calendar, and I can't wait to get out on-track and be racing again! This will be the first chance we get to truly weigh up the competition, and I think it is going to be quite interesting for all of the teams.

"Albert Park is a challenging track to get on top of - because it's a street circuit, it takes a while to rubber-in and there is very little grip on Friday. It's quite a stop-start circuit, so brake wear can be a factor. It is also quite bumpy, and because the weather can change so quickly at this time of year, the track conditions can vary with each session. I think the combination of this circuit, together with the surprises we expect to see anyhow, should make for an incredible season-opener."

If Glock's preparations have been somewhat hindered, then rookie team-mate J?r?me d'Ambrosio admits by contrast that he could scarcely have enjoyed a better build-up to his maiden campaign of F1 competition, benefiting from the lion's share of the running inside the MVR-02 as he steels himself for what he describes as the most exciting week of his life.

"Sunday will be a big day for me" reflected the 25-year-old Belgian. "Now that it's just around the corner, I'm really starting to get excited about the first race in Melbourne. It's kind of strange, because I've been driving for the team since September last year and after four Friday free practice sessions and five tests in that time, I still have my F1 debut to look forward to. It's been pretty busy until now, but it has started to hit home and I'm really looking forward to it.

"I've had the best preparation I can imagine with so much running in all of the pre-season tests. I've also spent plenty of time in the simulator to prepare for Albert Park specifically and have spent the weeks since the last test in Barcelona really consolidating my fitness - and I'm ready to start racing now. I've never been to Melbourne but I've heard great things, so I can't wait to see it for myself."