Virgin Racing's technical director Nick Wirth has promised a major upgrade on the VR-01 for the Bahrain Grand Prix, and says he is quite confident that his squad will start as the best of the new teams.
So far in testing, Virgin has tended to be faster than fellow newcomer Lotus, while Campos has yet to run its car at all and US F1 is still shrouded in uncertainty. When asked if he expected Virgin to be the top new team, Wirth replied: "I have no doubt about that! We have clearly got a strong baseline car, we have already seen from our track performance with the very limited running that we have done."
He has high hopes for the new parts that his team is poised to bring to the opening race. "We have got a fantastic step forward ready for Bahrain," Wirth said. "We were going to introduce it here [at Catalunya] but the issues we had in Jerez meant we really had to focus on making sure everything is sorted out regarding hydraulics and the things that have slowed us down, so we are going to bring a very interesting step forward in performance for Bahrain, as I am sure many of our competitors will, and then we get into the development during the season."
Although Virgin's testing has been disrupted by some reliability issues, Wirth said the important point was that the car was running as the team expected – despite doubts elsewhere in the paddock about the validity of his all-CFD design approach.
"I guess the most radical aspect of this project is the aerodynamic side and the numbers have come in exactly as we predicted," he said. "The characteristics, the balance, the feeling of the car is as predicted – it is reacting to changes as predicted. So I think we have a fantastic baseline to move forward.
"What has caused us some problems are small design issues, issues with various systems on the car, and with the limited amount of testing we've had, plus the inclement weather we have had in Jerez, that has kind of put us a little bit behind. But we are here now, we had a very positive day yesterday in terms of getting these issues we had not slow us down and we are looking forward to the last two days and finishing, getting through the check boxes ready for Bahrain."
He warned not to judge Virgin until it had developed its car through the season. "At the end of the day, what happens on the track is important," Wirth said. "Hydraulic issues that have slowed us down recently are nothing to do with CFD, they are everything to do with the process of getting the car there.
"The numbers are right, we are happy, and all I would ask is for everyone to judge our performance on where we get to – and particularly our rate of development. We have set our whole program up to have the best rate of development that we can through the season.
"We saw some of the teams last year start off in a very poor way, and turn their season around and come forward. It is all about the rate of development and we are very excited about what we can deliver in that respect this year."