A bullish Jos? Ram?n Carabante has vowed that despite failing to qualify either of its cars for the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend, Hispania Racing (HRT) will 'be ahead of Lotus and Virgin' come the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona in seven weeks' time.

Following the delayed launch of its new F111, HRT failed to turn so much as a wheel during pre-season testing due to a bizarre and embarrassing customs issue that prevented it from running on the last two days of the final group session around the Circuit de Catalunya. There was subsequently just a single installation lap for Vitantonio Liuzzi in Friday practice Down Under, and a mere handful more for team-mate Narain Karthikeyan in FP3 on Saturday morning.

To nobody's great surprise, neither driver succeeded in beating the 107 per cent rule that would have enabled them to qualify around the streets of Albert Park - but team owner Carabante remains convinced about the F111's potential.

Blaming financial problems for the very public d?b?cle, the Spanish businessman pointed to the fact that an anticipated technical tie-up with Toyota was 'broken' at the eleventh hour in November, following which the team had to reappraise its financial means and is consequently operating on a more modest budget of EUR45 million this season.

"If we had the budget of the other teams, we would have come to the first race of the season with 3,000 kilometres under our belt," he told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, "but like last year, we began the development of the car too late due to the budget. We were closing [sponsorship] agreements that in the end did not come, so we set a realistic goal with the budget that we had."

Praising his team's performance in Australia as an achievement all of its own - and echoing Colin Kolles' description of the effort as 'a miracle' [see separate story - click here] - Carabante bemoaned the fact that whilst HRT's trials and tribulations have been frequently slated in the media, he has 'not read a single criticism of Virgin in the English press'.

More significantly, he also claimed that a 2011-spec front end for the next race in Malaysia and a 'new aerodynamic package' for Barcelona would vault Hispania above its two fellow F1 2010 'rookies' in the not-too-distant future.

"We did eleven laps with Liuzzi [in Melbourne] - if he had done 20, he would have qualified," he remarked. "Getting within 1.7 seconds [of 107 per cent] without driving hardly at all is a miracle. [The Barcelona upgrade] will be enough to be ahead of Lotus and Virgin. Last year, we were in a worse condition than now and we ended up ahead of Virgin with twice our budget, and behind Lotus due only to one accident."



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