Virgin Racing technical director Nick Wirth wants his outfit to stretch its ambitions beyond just beating fellow "new teams" in 2011, as he sets sights on making the step to challenge more established squads.
After an intense season-long battle with Lotus Racing and HRT in 2010, as the three teams fought it out for 10th place in the constructors' championship, Wirth is eager for more widespread competition in the season ahead. That means not just beating Lotus and HRT, but in making the step to becoming regular Q2 qualifiers, which should put Virgin on course to score its first world championship points.
"Our first and foremost thing is to beat the people who joined us last year, but we want to go beyond that," he said at the launch of the team's 2011 car in London on Monday. "We thought we were between one and two seconds off, in terms of pure speed, of being able to get into Q2, and that is what we have tried to find this winter so that we can give our drivers a chance to fight their way into Q2 on a regular basis.
"With drivers of the quality we have, with good teamwork, once you are in that position, history tells you then you have a really good chance of picking up your first point at some point, without an absolute fluke. And that is when things get interesting."
Wirth believes a more developed aerodynamic package for the MVR-02, plus the team's first use of a blown diffuser, will help deliver it a good step forward this season.
"We did not have a blown diffuser last year, which was one of the key technologies that people were talking about last year, as well as the F-duct. The blown diffuser has been very interesting and certainly there are some interesting solutions out there already, as we've seen a Renault with a rear engine and a front exhaust and there are lots of interesting solutions.
"We have one which we focused a lot of effort on and we hope proves effective, and it certainly seems to be like that in the wind tunnel [simulation]."
Wirth says the priority at the start of the 2011 season is to ensure reliability, so the team can capitalize and try and score its first points while others have a greater chance of hitting trouble. That is why the team is planning to hold back on any major development update until the start of the European season at Istanbul.
"The next time you will really notice anything on our car will be Turkey as I am sure us, along with anybody else, will be holding back a major update until then for logistical reasons really," he said. "Our aim for the first four flyaway races is to be reliable – that is first and foremost important. You have all those KERS cars out there, which may or may not go wrong, and I am not sure people will be really happy driving cars with 800 volt electrics in the pouring rain in Malaysia.
"So you have that drama to deal with, and we hope to learn the lessons of last year, which is where we fell behind our rival new teams. We were hopelessly unreliable in the first flyaway races and they had a modicum of reliability in the first races and that allowed them to pick up this 13th place – which set them on the course to be ahead of us in the championship despite our better performance at the end of the year."
When asked if he felt any personal pressure about the need for Virgin Racing to take a good step forward in 2011, Wirth said: "I just love it – I love the pressure.
"There were some things that went wrong last year that were outside of our control, but I took it on the chin and took one for the team, but there were things that we really, really did not get right – the lubrication systems in the gearbox, in particular, which were absolutely down to us and we want to right those wrongs.
"The pressure doesn't worry me; it is the excitement of achieving things which is what I look forward to."