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Russia back in F1 with Marussia Virgin team

Updated: February 07, 2011, 14:48


LONDON(AP) A Russian team will race again in Formula One from next month, the latest attempt to try and rebuild the country's global image through sport.

With Moscow-based sports car manufacturer Marussia Motoring becoming Virgin Racing's controlling stake-holder, the team has ditched its Union Jack identity and will stop competing with a British license.

Russia hasn't been represented in the F1 constructors' championship since Midland contested one season in 2006 before ultimately becoming Force India.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke recently of the nation being able to shed Cold War-era stereotypes by hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Sochi and the 2018 World Cup. Russia is also set to stage its first F1 race in Sochi in 2014.

National pride motivated Marussia Motoring president Nikolay Fomenko's decision to buy a significant stake in the Virgin team after having provided the backing that enabled it to make its F1 debut in 2010.

"We want to show the world we are a normal open country,'' Fomenko told The Associated Press at the launch of the team's car for the 2011 season. "But it's a step by step (process) and will take a very long time because Russia was in a very hard situation always with the U.S.S.R. ...

"My dream is the government will look at this and say, 'Marussia is very good.' In Russia, people always go to the government and ask, 'Help me please.' I think we have a chance to be different ... we are working without help from the government.''

Fomenko, a TV personality and former racing driver, is investing in a team that won no points and finished bottom of the constructors' championship in 2010 after operating with the lowest budget in F1.

"(Marussia) has given us a future, we don't need to plan from week to week now - we can plan for five years and it gives the whole team stability,'' Marussia Virgin Racing team principal John Booth said.

By the time of the Sochi race, Fomenko expects Marussia drivers to be finishing on the podium. For now, though, a 10th-place finish and a single point would satisfy him.

"Winning a race is the target but not now,'' Fomenko said. "This season will be hard for us, but it's a big step for us. My only ambition this season is to finish 20 times and 20 times to be in the second qualifying session. But I would be very glad to get one point.

"This season is very interesting because there are so many changes in regulations. For all teams, it's a big shock because of new tires, new aerodynamics and new regulations about engines.''

The MVR-02 car for 2011 was unveiled in London by the drivers: Timo Glock of Germany and Jerome d'Ambrosio, the Belgian who has replaced Lucas di Grassi.

"We have a much better baseline this year, we're much more solid,'' Glock said. "We were a good three or four seconds off the pace last year and, being realistic, you never catch up three or four seconds in the winter. But we can be pushing up near the middle of the field.''

The MVR-02 will be tested on a track for the first time in Jerez, Spain, later this week ahead of the season-opener in Bahrain on March 13.

"You never come in to Formula One and go into the top three straight away,'' Glock said. "Our realistic start point is to be strong in the first race. The first one back, there is often a lot of crashes and technical problems. But we have to be strong, finish and maybe get that first point in the first race. If not, we need to get a strong two-car finish.''

Despite last season's struggles, this year's car has still been entirely designed using computational fluid dynamics, a high-tech digital process, rather than expensive wind tunnels.

"We could fill 1,000 of the biggest iPods every day with the data we produce,'' technical director Nick Wirth said. "I think those who don't believe in (the system) are members of the flat-earth society. It is the future of motor racing ... I wouldn't like to promise we've found three seconds, but I think we've found quite a bit.''

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