For those of you who might be wondering about the odd character at the end of the headline, I should perhaps explain that it is called an “interrobang” or a “quesclamation mark”, which is intended to combine the functions of the question mark and the exclamation mark, thus indicating an excited question. For this gem of wisdom I have to thank my brilliant girlfriend, who was teaching her pet Luddite how to find the necessary accents, umlauts and cedillas on his computer… The reason I use this interrobang in relation to the Jérôme d’Ambrosio signs for Virgin story is that while it might seem to be a dull story of little interest, there could be something much more exciting involved…
The story is simple: Virgin Racing F1 team has announced that it has signed D’Ambrosio in an evaluation role for four of the remaining five race weekends of the 2010 season. The 24-year-old from Brussels will take part in the first free practice session on Friday mornings at the Singapore, Japanese, Korean and Brazilian Grands Prix – and the team will be using this opportunity to evaluate Jerome’s potential. The 25 year old Belgian will use Lucas di Grassi’s car. In addition, Virgin Racing will run him in the young driver test sessions taking place in Abu Dhabi following the conclusion of the season finale.
“My ultimate goal has always been to race in Formula 1 and I am delighted to get a step closer,” he said. “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.”
The team says that while it has Timo Glock under contract for another two years and has an option for next year on Di Grassi, it wants to keep an eye on rising talent.
“Both drivers have done an outstanding job for us in our debut season,” said Graeme Lowdon, CEO of Virgin Racing. “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.”
Nothing stunning there, you might think… But, announcing any deal at midnight on a Sunday is bizarre timing, and one has to say that the only logic in such a thing is that the aim is to hide the news. The only time that would have been worse would be midnight on a Saturday. The people involved must be media-savvy enough to understand this and so one must ask why the news is being hidden away. The other point worth mentioning is that D’Ambrosio is one of the protégés of Gérard Lopez, the managing partner of Renault F1, and the man in charge of Gravity Sport Management. Completing a number of sessions with Virgin will give d’Ambrosio F1 experience – and help him earn an FIA Super Licence. This will make sure that he has completed the necessary 300km in a current Formula 1 car at racing speeds, not more than 90 days prior to the application for the Super Licence.
There have already been a lot of rumours about the second Renault drive in 2010 and it could be that Lopez wants to have d’Ambrosio ready to go for next year in case he is needed at Renault…
There is little chance that there will be any opposition to this idea in the world of Formula 1 as the arrival of Belgian driver will hopefully work wonders for the spectator numbers at Spa. No-one wants to lose the Belgian race from the F1 calendar and what is clearly needed is something to excite the local population about the event. There are 11 million Belgians, about a third of them French-speaking Walloons (of which d’Ambrosio is one) and so there is a substantial potential fan base to support the event. It would help if there was a German to attract fans across the border. This used to happen in the days when Michael Schumacher was winning, but interest has waned in recent years. Of the new generation of Germans Adrian Sutil is a Bavarian of Uruguayan extraction, Nico Rosberg was born in Wiesbaden but has lived most of his life in Monaco, Timo Glock and Sebastian Vettel both come from the Hesse region, to the south of Frankfurt, while Nico Hulkenberg comes from Emmerich, on the Dutch-German border, 150 miles to the north of Spa.