On the eve of the new world championship campaign beginning in Melbourne this weekend, John Booth has described the F1 2011-spec Virgin Racing as 'like night and day' compared to the newcomer that joined the grand prix grid this time twelve months ago - as he insisted that prioritising early reliability over performance this year was the right way to go.

Lead driver Timo Glock has already conceded that the lap times produced by the new Cosworth-powered MVR-02 during pre-season testing 'do not look good' and that 'we are definitely a bit off where we wanted to be' [see separate story - click here] - alluding to the target of regular appearances in the Q2 phase of qualifying as set out by both the German and team principal Booth at the car's launch last month.

Indeed, far from narrowing the gap on the midfield contenders as had been hoped, the suspicion is that Virgin's new baby has in actual fact slipped even further behind closest rival Team Lotus - but Booth is adamant that following a chronic run of unreliability in the early stages of F1 2010 that was arguably responsible for rooting the team to the bottom of the constructors' standings, seeing the chequered flag with the MVR-02 has to be the primary goal, and then the performance can come later.

"It's very exciting to be heading to Australia this week to begin our preparations for the first race of the season," the Yorkshireman acknowledged. "It is disappointing for all that Bahrain was postponed, but all the signs are that this was the right decision. The fact is that had we raced in Bahrain, we would have been a man down in the cockpit as Timo would still have been recovering from his appendectomy. Thankfully, he'll be fighting fit for this weekend, so the last-minute change to the calendar has worked in our favour.

"Whilst it's impossible to predict how any of the teams will fare once we all take to the track on Friday in the first real barometer of competitive performance, what I do know is this - as a racing operation, we're like night and day compared with twelve months ago. Last year, we pushed too soon on car performance and it cost us in reliability terms as a result. This year, we head to Melbourne with 4,642 kilometres of pre-season testing mileage under our belts and a much more reliable baseline to develop from.

"We fully expect the first few races to be challenging in terms of outright pace, but I'm comfortable that prioritising reliability and strategy will help our big picture and we'll be in a much better place for the rest of the season. I'm looking forward to a more straightforward week of preparation leading up to the first race and to planning our opening race strategy in rather more calm circumstances than last year. Albert Park is a fantastic circuit that has produced some truly memorable racing, and I hope we can do ourselves justice there."



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