Testing times for Marussia in Barcelona

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WAY off the pace and without their most experienced driver - Marussia Virgin Racing are already playing catch up, just 16 days before the start of the new season.

Shorn of the services of Timo Glock, the Dinnington-based team endured another troubled day in the fourth and final pre-season test in Barcelona on Thursday.

Glock had an operation to remove his appendix last week, forcing Jerome d’Ambrosio to participate in all the testing sessions.

The young Belgian, who has replaced Lucas di Grassi in the second driver seat, struggled on day three and his fastest lap time at the Circuit de Catalunya was 1:27.336.

D’Ambrosio, one of four rookies in 2011, was nearly five-and-half seconds behind Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who topped the timesheets. Only Jarno Trulli recorded a lower time than d’Ambrosio.

Perez, making his debut in Formula One, finished above Felipe Massa in the Ferrari and Mark Webber in the Red Bull while the reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Jenson Button will return to the track today.

D’Ambrosio said: “It was great to get so many laps in and complete our programme.

“This is the second full race simulation I have completed now and having this opportunity to do four full days before the start of the season is very important.”

Despite being unable to get behind the wheel, Glock spent Thursday trackside, poring over the data and observing the track activity of Virgin and the other teams.

Aside from a fuel pressure problem in the morning, team principal John Booth said it was a “very productive” run out for Virgin.

“We have some excellent data to work with over the next couple of weeks to ensure we are in the best possible shape for the first race,” said Booth, who also confirmed Glock is “on the mend and in good shape” ahead of the curtain-raiser in Australia on March 27.

He added: “It was good that Timo had the opportunity to be as close to the cockpit as possible – both in the garage with the team and observing the action from the pitwall.”

Virgin face an uphill task to close the gap on the frontrunners before the first GP. But on the bright side, Booth’s side have clocked up plenty of miles over the last two months. To date, Virgin have completed 763 laps in the four pre-season tests, which is 200 more than rivals Lotus Renault and over 300 more than Hispania.

While the slow lap times will concern Virgin’s hierarchy, the tests have allowed the team to accumulate knowledge and data to help further develop their MRV-02 model.