The first race of the season was certainly noteworthy on many points but perhaps the most anticipated element was the performance of the new teams for 2010. Honestly the best racing from the weekend in Bahrain was at the hands of the new teams who fought each other for supremacy leaving Lotus Racing on top of the heap. HRT and Virgin racing were relegated to the DNF category for technical issues.
All of that could change in Melbourne this weekend in Virgin Racing’s Nick Wirth has anything to say about it. The Hydraulic issues that plagued the team in Sakhir have been addressed and according to Wirth, Melbourne should be a different story:
â€œIt was disappointing to end our debut race with two retirements, but we take a lot of encouragement from knowing that our issues are specific and isolated, which means they are easily addressed. No one said the first few races would be easy and Bahrain was gruelling to say the least. But far better to flush out the problems early on and deal with them and that is exactly what we have been doing in the two week gap between these two races. We have some new parts which we hope will provide a robust solution to the new hydraulic problem and transmission issue we experienced in Bahrain.
â€œMelbourne represents a new and different challenge. This isnâ€™t an easy track to contend with because itâ€™s a street circuit. It lacks grip on Friday before its starts to rubber in, but the track conditions can change from session to session. The lap is full of stops and starts, so we have to manage the brakes and also the track surface is quite bumpy. All of these factors conspire to make car set-up quite a challenge, but itâ€™s one weâ€™re looking forward to. We saw some very positive signs in terms of our qualifying and race pace, and the drivers and engineers have done their homework on our Simulators back at Wirth Research, so we are looking to build on the performance level seen in Bahrain and ensure that both cars get to cross the finish line.
In terms of givign some deference to Virgin, the Sakhir performance of German driver Timo Glock was actually quite good and the car seemed to be a decent baseline in which to challenge Lotus for the best new team slot for 2010. How does Glock feel his outlook this weekend is?
â€œAustralia is usually a good race. Itâ€™s a great city and I look forward to it every year. Itâ€™s one of the best weekends on the Formula One calendar. The track itself is a street course, very different from a race track, and quite special. I got a birdâ€™s-eye view of it on Wednesday when I flew over the track in a heli – a bit of fun and a great way to recce the track layout. Itâ€™s a fantastic circuit and Iâ€™m hoping it will bring us good luck.
â€œWe had a tough time in Bahrain but there were some positives too. We learnt some good lessons which can only make us stronger. The main target is to do everything we can to ensure reliability doesnâ€™t stop us from making it to the flag. Hopefully weâ€™ll get another strong qualy in the bag too.â€
Glock’s comment on qualitfying position is critical if the racing in 2010 is going to remain similar tot he type of competitiveness we saw in Bahrain. Placing the Virgin ahead of Lotus and possibly Toro Rosso will be crucial as passing will remain at a premium but should the new rules exonerate themselves and expose Sakhir as the real culprit of the season opening procession; all bets are off.
Equally Lucas Di Grassi, Glock’s teammate, feels Australia should be a different story. While expecting better things from Virgin, he is cautious about his lack of experience at the Albert Park track:
â€œIâ€™ve been to Australia a few times but Iâ€™ve never raced at Albert Park before, so it will be an interesting weekend! Basically, I canâ€™t wait to get back in the car again and experience the track. Australia as a destination actually reminds me of Brazil – the weather is nice and the people are warm and friendly. Iâ€™ve been out here for a few days now, acclimatising to the time difference and ensuring Iâ€™m relaxed for the weekend ahead. As for the relaxation part, I went surfing with Championship winning surfer Damien Hardman along the Great Ocean Road on Wednesday. Iâ€™m a big surfer â€“ and pretty good, if I say so myself â€“ so it was fun to head out of the city to catch a few waves before we get down to the serious stuff.
â€œWeâ€™re hoping to make a few waves on track this weekend also. We obviously want to build on what we saw in qualifying and reach the finish. I was really pleased with my debut qualifying and race start but obviously I want to carry that through to the race now. Iâ€™m looking forward to it.â€
As our own Paul Charsley said in the Bahrain review, some of the best racing was between the new teams. I am inclined to agree with him as the cars lack the aerodynamic oppression that the big teams employ leaving the cars to actually race on terms more based on mechanical grip than anything else.
To those ends, I would love nothing more than to see Virgin Racing fix their glitches and race Lotus to the very end for bragging rights. That, my friends, is good racing and don’t forget, one of the teams bosses will be wearing a flight attendant outfit at seasons end. Those are real stakes!