Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Virgin‽

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.

33 thoughts on “Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Virgin‽

  1. Maybe the Virgin PR people set up an auto-email for Monday and forgot to set the send time on it. So perhaps they’re PR savvy, but not techno-savvy…

  2. Hmm. Sounds plausible.

    This Ambrosio bloke was heavily talked up by the local commentators at the Belgian Grand Prix, like he’s destined for big things and had some money behind him. So it was kinda amusing when he didn’t finish.

    Also, his car was on the back of the truck that tried to run us over as we walked from Pouhon back to the pits via a service road…

  3. Interesting that Jerome was demonstrating the Renault R29 again this weekend at Silverstone as part of the Renault World Series event.

    Do these kilometres count as part of the 300km required to gain a superlicense?

  4. “Completing a number of sessions with Virgin will give d’Ambrosio F1 experience – and help him earn an FIA Super Licence.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t he already need a superlicense to participate in those sessions?

  5. A year in a Renault powered Lotus meandering around and learning the tracks would no doubt be a good training run for a Renault “factory” seat in 2011.
    Having run a rookie already, maybe Lopez has decided he shouldn’t be Russian into things with inexperienced but obviously talented drivers.

  6. So Joe, please could you explain to another Luddite how to get an interrobang on the screen?!?! Which will then save me appending those marks I just used to a question!

  7. “Completing a number of sessions with Virgin will give d’Ambrosio F1 experience – and help him earn an FIA Super Licence.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t he already need a superlicense to participate in those sessions?


    I think doing well in a series such as GP2 qualifies you for a superlicence … There are a number of criteria, and then there is one at the end which states that the FIA may grant one at their discretion. So it probably won’t be a problem…

    1. Rubber Goat

      Superlicence Qualifications
      (as in Appendix L of the International Sporting Code)

      5.1.1 The driver must be the holder of a current FIA International Grade A licence.
      5.1.2 The driver must also satisfy at least one of the following requirements:

      a) have made at least 5 starts in races counting for the FIA Formula One World Championship for Drivers the previous year, or at least 15 starts within the previous 3 years.

      b) have previously held the Super Licence and have been the regular test driver with an F1 World Championship team for the previous year.

      c) been classified, within the previous 2 years, in the first 3 of the final classification of the F2 Championship, or of the final classification of the GP2 Series, or of the final classification of the GP2 Asia Series or of the final classification of the Japanese F/Nippon Championship,

      d) been classified in the first 4 of the final classification of the Indycar IRL series within the previous 2 years,

      e) be the current champion of one of the following:
      Formula 3 Euro Series The principal national F3 championships of: Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain World Series F/Renault V6.

      The title of Champion is considered valid for 12 months from the last race of the relevant series or championship season.

      f) be judged by the FIA to have consistently demonstrated outstanding ability in single-seater formula cars, but with no opportunity to qualify under any of c) to e) above. In this case the F1 team concerned must show that the applicant has driven at least 300 km in a current Formula One car consistently at racing speeds, over a maximum period of 2 days, completed not more than 90 days prior to the application and certified by the ASN of the country in which the test took place.

      By exception, if supported by the Safety Commission, the FIA World Motor Sport Council may approve the issue of the Super Licence to persons judged by the Council to have met the intent of the qualification process.

  8. David – Copy and paste from this article – easy‽ Otherwise on Windows you can run the Character Map program (part of windows; normally found under Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools – or similar) and select that or any of hundreds of other strange symbols from there.


    Releasing a press release at that time may traditionally have been the best way to bury a story, but is that really still true these days? What they have achieved is to make it the first (and possibly only legitimate) F1 story fans will come across when they browse around the various sites today. Its not something the mainstream press would focus on since theyll ignore F1 entirely until Thursday or Friday at the earliest.

    Really it just confirms that Lopez is in control at Renault and that Virgin are desperate for additional income, neither of which are surprising.

    d’Ambrosio has been in GP2 for a few years and has done nothing to suggest (to me) that he has a bright future in F1. We’ve seen over the years some drivers who shone in that series (Piquet and Grosjean spring to mind) have come up to F1 and struggled, a driver who struggled in GP2 is unlikely to improve on Petrovs performances. Irrelevant if he has a rich sponsor in his pocket of course!

  9. If Virgin was really “… always looking to progress new racing talent and the team…” they should have kept Alvaro Parente under their wings, but money talks, even when Parente was faster in the simulator tests…

  10. All the pedants among your readers, among whom I am proud to be numbered, will be thrilled to learn that you have at last discovered how many racing drivers have awkward accents in their names. It is, of course, a simple matter of courtesy to use these accents. Nevertheless, allow me to ask this question: just how did the subject come up in the, er, course of conversation with the brilliant girlfriend?

    At the moment, alas, you are showing an unhealthy discrimination towards drivers of the Gallic persuasion. On behalf of those of a teutonic disposition, allow me to put in a plea for those with an umlaut. If you can’t find it on your Apple keyboard, you can of course insert the alternative extra ‘e,’ as in (for example) ‘Nuerburgring’ or ‘Huelkenberg.’

    Now that you have seen the light on this small but important matter, I shall be checking on you over the course of the coming weeks. Expect another message if you fail to meet the high standards of accuracy which you have set for yourself.

    1. Mathambles,

      A pedant you are, but why not? My pal Mike Doodson is always banging on about accents and umlauts to an unhealthy extent as well. The reality is that most F1 journalists do not have the time to go looking for all this stuff and just hammer away and get the stories out. That my not be right nor indeed fair, but finding the damned keys is a nightmare!

  11. In MSword on a PC we are talking Alt8253 which you can allot to a hotkey. In this blog I get the = sign so different font set.
    Is this first mention of brilliant girlfriend? no doubt worth typing the above combination for. Ahhhh how nice!
    Good luck to both of you.

  12. Er sorry, a ps: the 8253 must be input from the numbers pad not the numbers in the top row. On my laptop I have to press the Fn key too but all worth it to congratulate Joe.

  13. If they were trying to bury the news, what do you thing they were expecting would happen when he showed up driving the car in Friday practice? Did you think there was a possibility no one would notice? (Here’s where I wish I knew how to add a quesclamation mark!) 😉

  14. D’Ambrosio was 2nd in the Gp2 Asia series in 2008-2009, so he classifies under c) for the superlicense qualification rules stated above. Last two seasons he had a Japanese driver named Kamui Kobayashi as teammate at DAMS and Jérôme scored more championship points than Kamui during both Gp2 seasons. Nobody expected Kobayashi to do this well in F1, why don’t we give this guy a chance? He did beat Kobayashi during their 2 Gp2 seasons as teammates.

  15. He guys,
    This deal was in the pipeline and it was already announced yesterday in belgian press, Jérôme was even live from Silverstone on Belgian TV channel RTBF giving a special interview.
    See link http://www.rtbf.be/sport/moteurs/detail_exclu-d-ambrosio-en-f1-des-cette-annee?id=3671213#videos

    More Eric Boullier already hinted to this deal during the Belgian GP on RTBF. He even said that Jérôme would drive in Abu Dhabi after the GP and for a second team. He has to bring some sponsorship and some Belgian businesspeople at highest level have been contacted already.
    Also, take note that Jérôme not only beat Kobayashi but is also beating this year Romain Grosjean in the same car.
    At the beginning of the year there were also rumours that he was going to get the second seat at Renault but the D’ambriosi family always denied. D’ambriosi received the support of Gerard Lopez (GenII Capital / Mangrove) the last three years. It is Lopez who relaunched his carreer. Gerard Lopez is now the main shareholder in Renault.

  16. @D, regarding the following: “We’ve seen over the years some drivers who shone in that series (Piquet and Grosjean spring to mind) have come up to F1 and struggled, a driver who struggled in GP2 is unlikely to improve on Petrovs performances. Irrelevant if he has a rich sponsor in his pocket of course!”

    What, like Kobayashi, who was a midfielder for much of his time in the main GP2 series and (as Mike C points out) was regularly out performed by his team mate, one Jerome d’Ambrosio, but still managed to impress in F1.

    I’ve followed Jerome career since he won the Formula Masters championship in 2007. His career seems to have been plagued by perpetual bad luck, he also (imo) made the mistake of stepping up to the GP2 level too soon after winning the FM title, it was too bigger step up and he’s been catching up ever since.

    Also, Gavin Brown’s comment on Jerome race in Spa is unfair, Jerome started on pole and was running in 2nd when he was forced to retire with an engine failure. I fail to see why him now having Renault backing and being highly rated by Belgian commentators makes it funny that he had a good result stolen from him… :/

  17. Also, Gavin Brown’s comment on Jerome race in Spa is unfair, Jerome started on pole and was running in 2nd when he was forced to retire with an engine failure. I fail to see why him now having Renault backing and being highly rated by Belgian commentators makes it funny that he had a good result stolen from him… :/

    Hi Stephen R,

    I should probably clarify that comment as it may have come across a bit wrong.

    I certainly don’t want to take delight in anyone’s misfortune, especially when it comes to a driver like Jerome. From the looks of things he drove quite well in a fairly interesting race and I was sorry to see him retire in that way.

    My problem stems from the fact that because I was forced to listen to the Belgian PA system, I was a little starved for knowledge and I was getting a little sick of the commentators constantly talking about him and nobody else in the GP2 race.

    I very much dislike bias and favouritism in any form of commentary, so I guess what I should have said was that I was really laughing at the commentators for spending so much time promoting the race on the one guy only to see him retire.

    Fair enough, he is Belgian and it was his home race, but I heard almost nothing about Perez, Maldonado, Bianchi or Bird, or any of the other drivers who were worthy of a mention and at least a quick look on the track.

    Maybe it was harsh, and I apologise for reacting in that way at the time. But this is what happens when commentators put all their eggs in one basket and a lot of fans left after he retired (and missed a really good finish to the race because of it).

  18. I understand most of it but not all. d’Ambrosio is indeed from Belgium but The Netherlands are very close to Spa and a potential of approx 20 million Dutch is more interesting than 3 million french speaking Belgians I would think. Why not back Guido van de Garde or some other Dutch driver. A lot more spectators would go there based on the time Verstappen was driving F1.

  19. Dear Joe,

    Jérôme is indeed from Brussels, which means he’s not Walloon. However, it would do Spa (and Belgium) good to have a Belgian in F1 no matter where he’s from and what language he speaks.

  20. Louis,

    As a Dutch guy, can you explain why McLaren Cars is not opening a dealership in the Netherlands? Racing heritage.
    It seems nobody saw the overtaking D’ambriosi did during the GP2 race in Spa. Sebastian Vettel coult learn a lot of it.

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