Renault F1 tester Jerome d’Ambrosio has joined Virgin Racing and will drive on the Friday mornings of the next four Grands Prix. He’ll thus be the first Belgian to drive on a race weekend since Bas Leinders was a Minardi Friday driver in 2004. In addition he will take part in the young driver tests immediately after the Abu Dhabi GP.
Lucas di Grassi will have to sit out the sessions of the upcoming events, which will be particularly hard on the rookie, who has to learn the tracks. Co-incidentally in 2004 Di Grassi and D’Ambrosio were colleagues on the Renault Driver Development scheme, along with Heikki Kovalainen and others, although D’Ambrosio was dropped at the end of the year.
The news shows the increasing influence of Gravity Sports Management, which is part of the Genii Group, which owns Renault F1. It must also cause some frustration for Andy Soucek, who walked away from the team when no Friday driving chances emerged, so clearly this deal must be worthwhile for Virgin. The team says that it is evaluating him and has pointed out that while it has a contract with Timo Glock for 2011, it only has an option arrangement with di Grassi.
D’Ambrosio is in his fourth year in GP2, and is currently with the Renault-affiliated DAMS team.
D’Ambrosio said: “My ultimate goal has always been to race in Formula 1 and I am delighted to get a step closer. I wish to thank Virgin Racing and Gravity Sport Management for their confidence. I won’t disappoint them. This drive is a fantastic opportunity and I am looking forward to helping the team in every way I can, as well as gaining experience on four of the most demanding tracks of the F1 calendar. Looking at the 2011 season, this will be very useful. Also, I will be very proud to wear the Belgian colours on my helmet during these official practice sessions, as it means a lot to me.”
CEO of Virgin Racing Graeme Lowdon added: “We are very pleased to welcome Jerome to Virgin Racing and we look forward to providing him with the opportunity to drive the VR-01 during the first free practice session of the next four race weekends. He will also take part in our young driver test in Abu Dhabi at the end of the season. We have a contract with Timo Glock for another two years and an option on the services of Lucas di Grassi for next year.
“Both drivers have done an outstanding job for us in our debut season. We are always looking to progress new racing talent and the team out of which Virgin Racing was born has a long history of this. Jerome is a real racer and very deserving of this opportunity. We are looking forward to evaluating his performance with effect from next weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix. With both Jerome and Luis supporting the Team, we have two drivers with enormous future potential.”