Nick Wirth has shrugged off the notion that he is under an obligation to vault Virgin Racing up the grand prix grid in F1 2011 following the team's well-documented struggles in the top flight last year, insisting that 'the pressure doesn't get to me at all' as 'it's the excitement of the achievement that I'm really looking forward to'.

Virgin completed its rookie campaign in F1 2010 as the wooden-spoon holders in the constructors' title chase - an ignominious honour achieved more by dint of poor early reliability than a lack of raw pace, with fellow newcomer Hispania Racing (HRT) palpably inferior in the outright performance stakes.

Aside from the litany of mechanical gremlins that struck down Timo Glock and Lucas Di Grassi far too often over the opening half of the season, perhaps most embarrassing of all was the damaging public revelation that the VR-01's fuel tank had not actually been built large enough to enable the pair to get to the end of races in any case in F1's new refuelling-free era.

Second time around, Wirth is well aware, there will be far fewer places to hide - but equally, with significantly more preparation time, he is confident Virgin can be 'ahead of the curve' in 2011 like it wasn't able to be twelve months ago.

"We don't have high expectations, we just expect to be reliable," the Englishman stressed. "We know [the MVR-02] is quicker and better than last year's car - and it bloody well needs to be! First and foremost for us is to try to beat the people who joined with us last year, but we want to go beyond that - and I'm quietly confident we will be a lot closer to Toro Rosso and Sauber this year.

"On pure speed, on average last year we were one-to-two seconds off getting through to Q2 [in qualifying]; that is what we have tried hard to find, to give our drivers the chance to fight their way into Q2, because history tells you that then you stand a chance of getting that first point without it being an absolute fluke.

"You saw that Timo was running around close to tenth place in Korea last year in a car that didn't deserve to be up there, so if we give him a car that's a 'race one' car rather than a 'race two' car, it will be a better year.

"I love the pressure - it's just brilliant! There were some things that went wrong last year that were not in our control, but I took that all on the chin. There were some other things we didn't get right, most notably the gearbox - that was down to us - and now we want to right those wrongs. The pressure doesn't get to me at all - it's the excitement of the achievement that I'm really looking forward to."

'The achievement' to which Wirth refers is CFD (computational fluid dynamics), the unconventional aerodynamic doctrine in which he is a firm believer. The former Simtek owner remains adamant that one day, the genius of such a pioneering and forward-thinking approach will become clear.

"We keep winning in other series, and I know what a big step forward this car is," he underlined. "I'm very much looking forward to the day when we make our real impact and everyone realises what we've achieved. There's such a bigger picture going on here with regard to the wider industry. The miracle of what we are doing is the process, and it's really important that that's used in other areas. For us, F1 is a showcase."

For Wirth Research, that may be true, but for Virgin, the short-term goal is to reach a level of respectability in the sport. Alongside Glock in 2011 will be F1 rookie J?r?me d'Ambrosio - 'Custard' to his new colleagues - and having observed the Belgian at close-quarters in the simulator, the team's technical director is convinced he will play a key role in that progression up the pecking order.

"We knew very early how good J?r?me was, because you cannot run from the facts of the simulator," the 44-year-old revealed, joking that d'Ambrosio will not be under any pressure personally since 'most people can't even pronounce his name!' "He was very, very impressive, so we let the management team know that and they made their decision. He is a great kid - modest, bright, quick and personable. He doesn't seem to panic under pressure, and he will just get on and do the job.

"I think everyone saw in the testing he did last year and also in Abu Dhabi when he jumped out of our car and into the Renault that he is a very good talent - and hopefully I can give him a car this year that will allow him to do what he is capable of doing."



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