Slick presentation heralds new era as Virgin’s preparations speed up

THE pace of change in Formula 1 is, as is to be expected, rapid.

The quickest sport in the world is no place for slow coaches. Virgin Racing struggled to keep up last year. Their efforts in attending and competing in 19 grands prix were admirable.

But in a second season, admiration no longer suffices.

Hence the ‘significant’ investment from Russian sports car manufacturer Marussia Motors, the rebranding of the team, the increased expectation, the genuine mood of optimism and the slick execution of the launch of their 2011 car at London’s BBC Television Centre yesterday.

It all counts towards a considerable step up in professionalism from a team that a year ago had it all on just to make the grid.

“Twelve months ago we were naïve, excitable. Formula 1 looked achievable,” reflected team principal John Booth yesterday.

“We didn’t realise what was around the corner.

“Roll on 12 months we know exactly how hard the challenge is and we’re prepared for it.

“The first six months of last year we didn’t develop the car at all, we just tried to make it go round and round, which almost seemed like the impossible task at times.

“From day one this time we’ll be starting developing the car. We’re confident it will go round and round . . . much better than it did last year.”

Booth’s job is to ensure the MVR-02 goes round and round in a lot quicker fashion than last year, closing the gap on the likes of Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber.

For he knows that in sport, results mean considerably more than sentiment.

He might be the backbone of the team he founded originally as Manor Motorsport from his own garage in Rotherham two decades ago. And the decision to move into Formula 1 was made by him, along with business partner Graeme Lowdon.

And the toil and the hardship, the sweat and the tears that went into their debut season, when all the odds were against them, were all his.

But if he wants success for his team in the most glamorous paddock in sport, then they need money.

And Marussia Motors bring lots of it.

Not the big bucks of a McLaren or the bottomless pit of a Ferrari, but enough to help the team from a former mining community in South Yorkshire rub shoulders with the biggest names in the world.

“This is Formula 1, the pinnacle, we all have to perform,” said Booth, whose team will again have the smallest budget on the grid.

“If you don’t you’re down the road.”

It is a sentiment hinted at by Andy Webb, the team’s new chief executive who comes from the Marussia side of the operation.

“Formula 1 is a very active, constantly moving sport. You plan for tomorrow and live for today,” said Webb.

“If we do get those baby steps right in 2011, then it makes it much easier to plan for 2012, 2013. Everything in life is about performances. If we’re at the back of the grid first six or seven races everybody will have some questions to answer.

“John is absolutely part of our vision. But the truth is that no-one is bulletproof in this day and age.”

It is a challenge Booth is relishing.

“What the Marussia partnership has given us is a chance to plan,” he said. “Last year we couldn’t plan from one race to the next, now we can plan for five years and it’s a wonderful partnership.

“The team we have is good enough. If on a personal level I’m found to be not good enough then I have no problem with that.

“It is an emotional attachment I have with the team, it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done since leaving Dinnington High School at 15, I never expected this.

“We’re living the dream.”

Yesterday’s launch encapsulated how far Booth’s dream has come in such a short space of time.

Twelve months ago they hardly had offices or work spaces between their Dinnington and Oxfordshire bases – where Nick Wirth designs the car.

Last year’s car was launched on the team’s website in an attempt to illustrate their reliance on computer technology. But in a pre-cursor to the struggles ahead on the track, the computers crashed. Fast forward a year and it was the kind of show one might expect Williams or McLaren to produce.

Hosted by BBC Radio FiveLive’s Formula 1 commentator David Croft it was an hour-long programme of interviews and introductions, from Booth and Wirth to drivers Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio.

To add to the Top Gear feel, Marussia’s owner and Russian Jeremy Clarkson, Nikolay Fomenko even made an appearance, promoting his company’s new sportscar which they hope to launch to the western market in the summer when the team’s MVR-02 is a regular participant in Formula 1’s second session of qualifying.

Yet further evidence of the pressure being cranked up a notch.

“We’ve got a long way to go to achieve our targets,” cautioned Booth.

“Speed wise we’d hope to be pushing for Q2 by mid-season, and that’s not a small task.

“But you look at teams like Sauber, Toro Rosso, Force India; good, established teams. They’re not going to roll over.

“But it’s a challenge we have to set ourselves to go forward.”

n Virgin Racing’s driver Timo Glock yesterday sent Robert Kubica his best wishes after the Polish driver was seriously injured in a crash while taking part in the Ronde di Andora and suffered severe injures, including fractures to his right arm and leg.

He looks unlikely now to feature in the 2011 championship.

Glock said: “I just hope he is back as soon as possible.”

“I know him quite well from my time testing at BMW when he was there and we’ve had a few good games of poker. I wish him well.”