Responding to claims from F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone that one of the new teams may struggle to see out the season this year, Sir Richard Branson has vehemently denied Virgin Racing's future could be under threat - insisting that the problem-beset squad 'will go all the way'.

Some five-to-six seconds shy of the leading pace thus far during its maiden campaign of top flight competition - much like fellow newcomers Lotus and Hispania (HRT) - Virgin's efforts have been further hampered by persistent reliability woes, with hydraulic, gearbox and engine issues the principal causes for concern.

That has resulted in Toyota refugee Timo Glock and F1 rookie Lucas Di Grassi recording no fewer than nine DNFs between them over the course of the first six outings - though some progress was made in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona earlier this month, when both saw the chequered flag.

Further embarrassment was generated in late March when it emerged that the fuel tank of the Nick Wirth-designed, Cosworth-powered VR-01 is not large enough to reach the end of a race at full speed regardless of reliability - necessitating a costly re-design.

British billionaire Branson, however, is adamant that despite having elected to go it alone after enjoying double world championship success with his ?2.4 million backing of Brawn GP in 2009, he is having no second thoughts about his three-year sponsorship and renaming agreement with Manor.

"I'm surprised Bernie said that," he told British media of the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive's comments last week. "He might know something about the other new teams that I don't, but this Virgin will go all the way to the end of the season and hopefully for many seasons to come - we certainly would like to.

"It's actually just as fun being one of the new guys on the block as winning. It's a different kind of experience. If we'd stuck with Brawn for another year we would be ?50 million worse off, and they're not winning - so supporting and building a new team from scratch is very exciting.

"We've got to bridge the gap [to the front]. It's a lot, but is to be expected of a new team. It's been a challenging start and there will be technical problems, but even the teams that are spending ?300m on their cars have technical problems. It was incredibly pleasing to see both our cars finish [in Spain], and to do that within five races is pretty good going. If the team continue the kind of progress they've made to-date, we'll be delighted and we'll continue to support it - and there's no reason why we shouldn't.

"We went into this with our eyes open, and we plan to stick with it as long as they can get other sponsors on-board as well, which they are managing to do. It's great that other people see the excitement of sponsoring a new team, and are joining us to see the team build over the next few years. Although this team is running on less money than all the other teams, it's still a lot of money and we want to spread it out among a number of people."

One key goal Branson does have is that of ensuring Virgin reaches the end of the season ahead of Lotus, with a running bet between himself and the Anglo/Malaysian outfit's boss - and fellow aviation mogul - Tony Fernandes that whoever's team fares worse will have to don an air stewardess costume and serve on one of the rival airline's flights. Currently, Fernandes looks to be in the safer position.

"I'm still trying to avoid that," the 59-year-old joked. "I haven't shaved my beard and moustache off since launching Virgin Brides many years ago, so hopefully we can avoid that spectacle!"

The Monaco Grand Prix last weekend, meanwhile, ended only in frustration for Virgin, Glock and Di Grassi, with the team-mates exchanging places early on in the race to both run inside the top 20 when the first safety car was deployed. The pair went on to artfully fend off the advances of the charging Fernando Alonso bearing down upon them in a palpably faster Ferrari, but sadly a damaged track rod brought a premature end to Glock's challenge on lap 22, and a wheel problem stopped Di Grassi just four laps later.

"It was a very disappointing end to the weekend," reflected Glock. "I had a problem at the start and then lost position to Lucas, but I had a really good first lap and overtook Lucas and Jarno Trulli at Loews. This got me into a good position behind Heikki Kovalainen and I could go at a similar speed to him, but I had a bit too much tyre degradation at the rear and some problems with the brakes as well. Unfortunately, in Casino Corner the rear suspension failed which ended my race, so we now have to investigate and understand why that happened."

"The first part of my race was good," echoed Di Grassi, who unlike the German did not benefit from an upgraded car in the Principality. "I overtook Timo and had a good fight with Fernando for a couple of laps, but then as soon as we made the pit-stop we had a wheel problem that forced us to abandon. It was a frustrating end to the weekend, so we need to improve for Turkey and make sure we are in a position to fight to be the best of the new teams."

Those sentiments were shared by team principal John Booth and technical director Nick Wirth - both of whom, nonetheless, forecast a much-improved performance and far happier ending when the Bicester and Dinnington-based concern introduces further updates in Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix at the end of the month.

"A disappointing end to our first Monaco Grand Prix," acknowledged Booth, "but we take a lot of positives away from the early part of the weekend, where we saw good steps operationally and with the new car. The team have done a terrific job during two challenging back-to-back races, so it is frustrating that we were unable to achieve a better reward for them. We will go to Turkey with the second revised VR-01, where it will help us enormously to be running the same specification of car on both sides of the garage. We look forward to a better race there in two weeks' time."

"Timo experienced a right rear track rod failure for reasons that we will need to investigate," added Wirth. "Lucas' right rear wheel came loose immediately after the pit-stop, losing drive and causing him to stop. We actually experienced problems with the left rear wheel in the pit-stop, and early analysis after the race shows that there are problems with all the wheels fitted during the stop. We're all very disappointed with our first Monaco Grand Prix, but I'm sure we can address these issues quickly and look forward to the debut of the second revised VR-01 in Turkey."

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