Virgin are the third of the ‘sophomore teams’ looking to catch up to the midfield this year.
But having driven the new MVR-02 Timo Glock has doubts about their chances of catching the likes of Sauber and Toro Rosso.
Speaking to Reuters yesterday he said: “I think we will have to wait for the bigger upgrade which comes to Turkey where everyone will bring an update.
“As far as I see it at the tests, we are still away from the midfield teams and [getting into] Q2 will be difficult. Especially Toro Rosso picked up quite a lot of speed over the winter and they look very strong. Sauber as well.
“They were all the teams where I thought we could catch up a bit more but they made quite a big step and we still have to make a big one. It looks like we are a bit behind the target at the moment.”
Glock was unable to drive the car in the final test of the year as he was recovering from surgery but he should be on the grid in Melbourne.
Another year toiling away at the back of the field would have an obvious effect Glock’s morale. He drove some excellent races last year but never even had a sniff of a points finish.
He’s joined by new team mate Jerome d’Ambrosio this year, who impressed the team in his Friday practice appearances last year.
While the MVR-02 may be lacking in performance, the reliability of their car looks more promising than it did 12 months ago.
Reliability was a serious problem last year for Virgin, who had more mechanical failures in races than any of their rivals.
They seem to have improved on that front heading into the new season, having covered almost the same distance with their new car in testing as Lotus did, despite not running it at the first test.
The absence of KERS, though not good for performance, could help them ensure early-season reliability.
Virgin are manufacturing their own transmission, as they did last year, while fellow 2010 entrants Lotus and HRT have switched to Red Bull and Williams units respectively.
What is also unchanged is the team’s radical approach to car design. Technical director Nick Wirth continues to shun wind tunnels and develop the car entirely using Computational Fluid Dynamics – a significant cost saving for the team.
While he retains a high level of confidence in the approach but other teams (the wealthiest of which split their development work 50-50 between CFD and wind tunnels) remain sceptical.
Virgin have attracted increased backing from Russian sports car firm Marussia Motors, who have invested in the team. Marussia president Nikolai Fomenko is named as Virgin’s ‘engineering director’.
This will hopefully put this team of modest resources on a sounder financial footing. That may prove important, as their prospects of finishing in the top ten this year, and therefore earning prize money, already look quite slim.
2011 F1 season preview
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