Crash test dummies have left Booth’s F1 team stuck in neutral

New season, new name, same old problems. Marussia F1 may have dropped Virgin from their branding and left behind their Yorkshire roots but when it comes to running smoothly as a Formula 1 team it would appear that, sadly, old habits die hard.

Ahead of this weekend’s season-opener in Melbourne, Marussia have had just two days of testing – a fraction of what their rivals have enjoyed – because they failed one of the crash tests conducted by FIA.

It was only one of 18 tests but, put into context, it is like a new Porsche Carrera rolling off the production line and failing its MOT. It is an embarrassment up there with the fuel tank being too big, a gaffe that blighted them in their early days of grand prix racing in 2010.

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Mixed in with pit lane schadenfreude was also a dose of pragmatism, of understanding that a team as green as the Dinnington-based Virgin Racing was bound to endure some hiccoughs along the way.

Two years on, and with a second season of improved reliability under their belt plus a technical partnership with McLaren helping them sleep easier in their garage bunks, such faux pas should have been consigned to history.

As it is, the team, now based in Oxfordshire, goes into this morning’s qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix stuck in neutral.

“We have absolutely no idea how quick we will be,” conceded team principal John Booth prior to yesterday’s practice sessions, when they made no in-roads into the three- to four-second gap by which they have perenially trailed the midfield cars.

“The two days we did have of testing were very productive and went without a hitch.

“Hopefully, the various lessons we have learned over the last two years should stand us in good stead. But pace is the key. We have collected data on the simulators, but you can only really tell when you get out onto the circuit.

“We have not given ourselves the best chance. We’ve made it very difficult for ourselves.”

Such basic mistakes will eat away at the former Rotherham butcher, who despite the constant uphill battle is still living the dream of life in the Formula 1 fast lane more than two decades since he began his own single-seater operation from his garage.

The smooth transition from Dinnington to Banbury over the winter and the nature of their relationship with motor sport powerhouse McLaren makes for a solid base on which to at least build a more sustained challenge in 2012.

Leaving his native South Yorkshire was a wrench but also a necessity if he wanted the team to grow. Booth says he was followed by all of the work force he employed at Dinnington.

He remains in his role as team principal, though with renowned F1 operator Pat Symonds exerting greater influence as Marussia’s technical adviser ahead of his scheduled return to the pit lane in 2013 following the ‘Crashgate’ saga, Booth’s future role with the team may be of an overseeing nature.

With characteristic pluck, Booth tackles external and internal challenges head on.

“We have the same target as last year, it has to be, Q2 by mid-season,” he said. “That is the minimum requirement. There’s pressure but no more than there was two years ago or last year. It’s pressure all the time in Formula 1 – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The technical partnership with McLaren, which they have begun to make full use of this year, fills Booth with hope that the graft his hard-working Yorkshiremen apply reaps the benefit of added F1 expertise.

The computational fluid dynamics (CFD) testing has been replaced by the more customary F1 practice of wind-tunnel testing.

Like their McLaren siblings, they have turned their snout up at the radical ‘step-nose’ design that the rest of F1 has adopted.

“It’s ugly,” said Booth of the sport’s latest aerodynamic fad. “We have the same nose as McLaren. In winter testing the step-nose made only a small amount of difference and I’m sure the teams who have it won’t see that much of a difference. As for wind tunnel testing, it helped but it’s not the biggest difference we’ve noticed.

“We’ll start to get the benefit of that when we head to Barcelona (in May) with our first upgrade.

“The thing we’ve noticed most from the McLaren partnership is the quality of the design, the quality of the parts. The car this year is a massive step forward. It’s just a pity we have hampered ourselves by failing the crash test.”