John Booth has angrily hit back at Bernie Ecclestone's denigration of the three F1 2010 newcomers by accusing the sport's commercial rights-holder of trying to 'embarrass' Sir Richard Branson and insisting his remarks 'no longer affect us' - as he contends that Virgin Racing has gone from being 'a disaster' earlier on in the season to 'tremendous' now.

Last week, Ecclestone caustically derided Virgin and fellow new boys Lotus and Hispania (HRT) as 'cripples' and 'an embarrassment' to the sport and suggested British entrepreneur Branson should inject more money into the team that bears his ultra-successful brand's name [see separate story - click here] - criticism that team principal Booth argues is grossly unfair.

Virgin has certainly endured its fair share of difficulties during its maiden campaign of top flight competition this year, from the very public ignominy of the fuel tank blunder back at the beginning of the season to poor initial reliability - in particular emanating from its in-house gearbox, an issue that Booth insists will not re-occur in 2011 - that saw Timo Glock and Lucas Di Grassi tally just three finishes between them from the opening six grands prix.

Since then, there has been improvement, and now not only is the Cosworth-powered VR-01 generally capable of making it all the way to the chequered flag, but Glock in particular is regularly vying with Lotus pairing Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen for the honour of being best of the new team drivers in both qualifying and races. Ecclestone, Booth hints, is out-of-order.

"I cannot understand his motives for saying that," the famously forthright Yorkshireman told local newspaper the Yorkshire Post. "Is it to embarrass Sir Richard Branson, one of the country's leading entrepreneurs? He's said so many things over the course of the year that it no longer has any effect on us.

"I wouldn't necessarily call it a good season. Initially there were a lot of lessons learned and the first half was a disaster, but it has been steady progress all the way since Monaco, really. Looking back, that was probably when we resembled something like an organised racing team, that was when we started turning things around - and the second half of the year has been tremendous."

Insisting that 'our budget is in-place as planned for three-to-five years and nothing has changed in our budget plans at all', one thing that might help to significantly boost that budget - reputedly the smallest in the field - is if Virgin were to leapfrog past HRT and even Lotus too into eleventh or tenth spot in the final 2010 constructors' table.

With the team's poor early reliability having cost it dear as its two rivals made hay whilst decent finishes were to be had, Virgin now needs to finish 13th or higher with one of its two cars in Abu Dhabi this weekend to jump Hispania, and eleventh or higher to pip Lotus to P10 in the standings. Any new team that winds up tenth or better twice in two of its first three seasons at the highest level stands to earn ?17 million - from Ecclestone...

Frustratingly, Glock was running an excellent twelfth in the rain-hit Korean Grand Prix last month when he was harpooned out of contention by the wayward Scuderia Toro Rosso of S?bastien Buemi.

"Korea was disappointing, but operationally it was our best and most efficient race of the year," Booth underlined. "The whole team has done a fantastic job this year. We made an aerodynamic tweak ahead of Korea, but with the circumstances there we don't feel as though we got the chance to show it. Without any unusual circumstances, it is going to be very difficult now, but eleventh is what we're aiming for and we get more and more confident with each passing race that we can achieve that."

As to next year, finally, whilst Booth is adamant that the sought-after Glock - who has attracted interest from a number of other teams, and is understood to be tiring of Virgin's various trials and tribulations at the back-of-the-grid - is going nowhere, he offers fewer assurances about Di Grassi's fate.

GP2 Series race-winner J?r?me d'Ambrosio has been parachuted in to drive in the practice sessions for four of the last five grands prix in the Brazilian's stead, and the Belgian hopeful is making a strong case for himself both with his pace inside the car and his lucrative sponsorship backing out of it.

"We're evaluating options at the minute," Booth revealed. "Only one driver is set in stone and that's Timo. He's contracted to us and absolutely he is staying. We are still looking at Lucas, but it will be a couple of months before a decision is made. We have four or five options at the moment, and it's a case of who is the best to take us forward."



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