Virgin Racing has confirmed it has signed Jérôme d’Ambrosio to its driving roster for the 2011 season, where the Belgian will be the team-mate to Timo Glock.
The Belgian-born driver has acted as a third driver for last few rounds of the 2010 season, participating in Friday practice sessions at the expense of Lucas di Grassi. It had been suggested that – while the team claimed it was “evaluating” the potential of d’Ambrosio for 2011 – the squad was particularly interested in the financial backing that came with its newest signing.
The team has used the off-season period to evaluate the options of keeping di Grassi, or to inject new driving potential with either d’Ambrosio or Dutchman Giedo van der Garde, who was also rumoured to be bidding for the second seat in the VR-02.
But Virgin Racing’s team principal, John Booth, has rejected suggestions its interest in d’Ambrosio – who has had a relatively lengthy career in the feeder GP2 category with little in the way of major results – lay purely on his sponsorship portfolio.
“Jerome had been on our radar for quite some time as a driver we should seriously consider for a 2011 race seat. We had followed his progress in GP2 closely and it was clear he was ‘one to watch’, but when we put him in the car for the four race weekends and the Abu Dhabi test he surpassed even our own expectations,” Booth said.
“He slotted into the team perfectly and everyone took a shine to him, including our partners and the media. Apart from his obvious skill at the wheel of a Formula 1 car, he is an immensely personable young guy who is a pleasure to have around.
“He has secured this seat absolutely on merit and I think coupled with Timo we have the perfect blend of youth, experience, speed and potential and we can’t wait to see what they can achieve together next season,” he added.
“I’m thrilled to have achieved my goal of a Formula 1 race seat with Marussia Virgin Racing,” d’Ambrosio said when the announcement had been made.
“When I came to the team in September this year it was everything I could hope for. I had a tough test to complete because there was a lot of competition for this seat, but at the same time I got on well with the team and felt that I had found my home … They are extremely professional and ambitious people and it is exciting to think that I can be a part of shaping the team’s future.”
The decision also leaves di Grassi seemingly in the lurch as far as future F1 opportunities go, with the young Brazilian having had little opportunity to make himself noticed in a back-of-the-grid car.
“I must thank Lucas di Grassi for the important role that he also played in establishing the team,” Booth added. “He contributed a great deal to our development and we wish him every success in his future career, which we have no doubt will be an exciting one.”
It would seem unlikely – despite Booth’s PR-speak – that di Grassi will grace the F1 grid again in 2011.
The team also announced that Liuz Razia had been promoted from the role of test driver to that of the team’s reserve driver for 2011.
[Original images via LAT]