APRIL 28, 2010
John Booth talks about Virgin's F1 baptism
Virgin Racing team principal John Booth is a former British FF1600 front runner with a 'hard man' reputation. Perhaps his best known success was winning the 1983 FF1600 'Champion of Champions' race at Brands Hatch, a feat he managed despite a slipped disc the down-to-earth Yorkshireman sustained in a work accident at the family butcher's shop in Rotherham! On retiring from driving he formed Manor Motorsport and has had championship-winning success with the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton in Formule Renault and F3 before taking on his current role with Virgin.
Q: Given the various Virgin car issues, has it been a difficult start for you?
It has. Mainly it's been stuff out of our control. We've had other things but the gearbox and hydraulics have been far and away the biggest issues for us. And given the schedule and the lack of testing, everything is done in the field in front of half a million people. I've got to say though, the Cosworth engine, service and reliability has been brilliant. It's the one constant we've had. I've been over the moon with that.
Q: Is the core of your team the familiar F3 people or is it a whole new set-up?
Two or three of the F3 mechanics have come over to F1 but it's a whole new set-up really. All the key personnel are experienced F1 people. Some of them have come from teams which pulled out but men like Dave Greenwood, who is Timo Glock's race engineer, was Alonso's for the past three years. He's a Yorkshire lad who wanted to move home. Like most teams we've recruited from around the Silverstone area but quite a few have taken apartments in Sheffield and were looking forward to enjoying them, pretty much for the first time, when we got back from the flyaways.
Q: Having seen drivers like Lewis and Kimi, what are your first impressions of Timo Glock?
I've been impressed with his attitude from day one. We've had our problems but there have been no prima donna tantrums. The lad's got a great work ethic and a great team ethic as well. He's got a lot of experience, not only at Toyota but in F1 with Jordan and in Champcars too.
Q: Presumably Lucas de Grassi, Manor's Macau winner in '05, is a known quantity?
I knew he was the right man for us. As well as being a good, quick guy he's very bright too. He's perfect for us and having Lucas is almost like having two experienced drivers.
Q: With aerodynamics key to in-season development, does Nick Wirth think he can keep pace using CFD?
Well, I'm not sure we're going to keep pace with people spending two hundred million, that would be a bit outrageous, but the reality is we haven't had time to do many updates because 100% of our focus has been trying to achieve reliability. Now we've got a little bit of that we can start trying to focus on the performance side.
Q: You are used to winning, so what is the motivation for you?
I think you have to appreciate the size of the task you are taking on and evaluate targets over three to five years. All I want immediately is for our performance to improve each race weekend.
Q: Can Virgin emerge as best of the new teams by the end of the year?
Yes. I think once we get reliability nailed and start looking at performance we can make progress. But Lotus is a good outfit, pretty much the race engineering team from Toyota, and obviously Mike Gascoyne's a bright fellow, so I'm not going to underestimate the challenge.
Q: You mention three to five years to become competitive. Is that something Richard Branson accepts and has signed up to?
Yes. He's seen what Brawn could do on $150-200m or whatever they spent, he knows how much we are trying to do it on and obviously he's got realistic expectations.
Q: You were originally attracted by the £40m budget cap, which is not exactly what you've got. What are your feelings about that?
It's a bit disappointing although I don't think anybody really expected that to happen. But there does seem to be a general realisation from the established teams, with the possible exception of Ferrari, that it was unsustainable as it was. There's now only one genuine manufacturer in F1 as far as I can see and everything has to be more tightly controlled to see if we can make some changes and drive down costs. And I do genuinely think that's the intention. There's a definite sense of people trying to make it realistic again.