Marussia Virgin Racing may not have opened its F1 points account in Melbourne, and frankly didn't look like doing so, but insists that it achieved its main objective for the 2011 season's first race by getting both Timo Glock and rookie Jerome d'Ambrosio to the chequered flag.
The Dinnington-based team found itself at the back of the field after HRT was forced to pack up early, but was encouraged by Glock's qualifying pace, which brought it closer to old rival Team Lotus. d'Ambrosio's times, however, flirted with disaster and the reinstated 107 per cent rule, giving team boss John Booth palpitations before making the grade.
"It's fair to say that there was some degree of nail biting within the team ahead of qualifying, as that's not the position we want to be in - fighting to stay within the 107 per cent time is not our target – it should be a given," he said, "Just like last year, we expected the first race to be a tough challenge, coming off the back of a winter of regulation changes, and qualifying was an affirmation of what we already know – that we have a lot of hard work ahead to bring the car up to where it needs to be.
"Having said that, Timo drove the wheels off the car to get the best possible result and Jérôme was doing an admirable job in his debut weekend, so all credit to the drivers and the team for a very respectable opening weekend operationally as it's a huge step forward from where we were twelve months ago.”
Accepting that there was likely to be little reward for that effort on race day, the team set the target of getting both cars to the finish, something it failed to do in Bahrain a year ago. Although the plan was nearly ruined by a lap one moment for Glock, which ultimately cost the German a lengthy spell in the pits, both red-and-black cars crossed the line as the sun fell over Albert Park.
“First and foremost, we have to be happy that we achieved our objective of a two-car finish," Booth continued, "To move forward, we have to maximise our track time and gather as much data as possible to feed back into the development programme, and I am comfortable that we have been able to demonstrate such promising reliability.
"The problem with Timo's wheel is disappointing and, even when he was back out on track, his progress was hampered as a consequence of the damage sustained. Jérôme, however, delivered a good debut race performance, so he can feel very proud of what he has achieved this weekend.”
Glock showed his experience by recovering well after running wide on the opening lap to get a good opening stint under his belt, avoiding incidents and preserving his Pirelli tyres until he pitted for the first time on lap 18. Shortly after rejoining, however, he radioed in to report a loose front left wheel and was forced to make his way slowly back to the pits. Refitting the wheel proved problematic, and the German was confined to the garage for five laps while the team repaired damage sustained to the drive pegs. He rejoined the race in 18th position and, as a consequence of losing so much track time, fell further back. From there, he could do no more than concentrate on finishing the race and eventually brought his car home, albeit unclassified.
“I think we had quite a good speed in the race," he reflected, "I was behind Jarno Trulli, then caught him and got past him in the pit-stop. Unfortunately, at the pit-stop, the front left wheel was loose and I had to drive round for one lap very slowly then come back into the pits. The drive pegs were damaged, but we repaired it, and I at least was able to rejoin the race. For the first couple of laps, it was okay, but then the car had quite a lot of vibration, so I just tried to focus on finishing the race.”
As an F1 virgin in every sense of the word, d'Ambrosio's personal target was to get as much mileage under his belt, and he achieved that with a clean run to 16th the finish, even if he had to be aware of the omnipresent blue flags. He was subsequently promoted to 14th after both Saubers were thrown out for technical irregularities.
“I'm really happy to have finished my first F1 grand prix," the Belgian commented, "I started really well and I felt comfortable in the car, even though I think that I could have gone a bit faster at the end of the race. But the most important thing is that we completed the race and this will give me plenty of experience which will be useful for the next races."