With the announcement that Jérôme d’Ambrosio is set to join the 2011 Formula 1 grid with Virgin Racing, the 24-year-old becomes Belgium’s first full-time Grand Prix representative since Bertrand Gachot made his swansong appearance with the hapless Pacific outfit in 1995.

So will his participation see a flood of extra Belgian patrons for the Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps? It’s unlikely, says the event’s promoter…

While the iconic circuit’s chiefs have loudly predicted that D’Ambrosio’s presence will have a “positive impact” on crowd figures and in keeping the event on the F1 calendar, the race’s promoter, Andre Maes, is a little more circumspect.

“[His arrival] can only be positive,” he told the La Libre newspaper.

D’Ambrosio will become the 23rd Belgian driver to compete in Formula 1, and will be hoping he can follow in the trail of his fellow race-winning compatriots, Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen. Belgians to have rather more recently graced the field include Gachot (a man whose criminal record is of more acclaim) and Philippe Adams, who was hopelessly off-the-pace in his two rent-a-drive outings with Lotus in 1994.

More recently in 2004, Bas Leinders represented Minardi in 2004 as the team’s occasional Friday test driver, but he never raced for the squad.

A question of Belgian pride: D’Ambrosio will join the likes of Thierry Boutsen, Willy Mairesse, Olivier Gendebien, Bertrand Gachot and Jacky Ickx (L-R) in the F1 ranks [Images via AUTOSPORT & The Cahier Archive]

Maes continues: “But will it boost ticket sales? I don’t know. Did the presence of Adams or Leinders cause many more Belgians to come? So, the impact [on ticket sales] will depend on how [D’Ambrosio] goes during the first races.”

Two factors, Maes believes, will be crucial in determining final tickets sales for Belgium’s premier sporting event: the quality of the VR-02 chassis D’Ambrosio will be piloting, and also how well is able to engage with the fans.

“I do not know about his popularity,” Maes added. “He remained relatively unknown in GP2 – he is not a star. I am convinced that nine tenths of the viewers on RTBF [Belgium’s F1 broadcaster] don’t know the sound of his voice.”

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.
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