Half Term Report: Jerome d’Ambrosio

The Rookie Report:

Jerome d’Ambrosio

When his appointment to a Formula 1 team was announced, a few question marks were raised against Virgin Racing’s decision to bring him onboard. Spending time as a test driver for the team on Friday’s his times came close to now team mate Timo Glock, but it was the higher placed Lucas di Grassi that lost out come 2011. D’Ambrosio’s run of results before entering Formula 1 weren’t overwhelmingly consistent, however a man named Eric Boullier saw something he liked and that management has brought him to Virgin Racing.

The Stats:

Races completed 11
Points 0
Retirements 1
Out-qualified team mate 2
Higher race position than team mate 5
Highest qualifying position 20th
Highest race position 14th
Average qualifying position 22nd
Average race position 18th

The Season:

First outing in his Virgin

Compared to his fellow rookies and rookie drivers that have come before, Jerome d’Ambrosio hasn’t joined a front runner or even a midfield team, he’s signed up to a team with just a year on the books. Virgin Racing partnered up with Marussia Motors for the 2011 season, who have a grand aim of being in contention for a podium finish in time for the inaugural Russian GP. They’ve got a mountain to climb before 2014 (and the 100th anniversary of the last race in Russia), and an integral part of their preparations is consolidating a driver pairing that can bring home those results. Presently Virgin are exactly where they finished in 2010, a rather disappointing last place, but considering the loss of Nick Wirth and switch from 100% CFD design this year is a matter of gearing up for 2012. Grounded without a point, both drivers have struggled to get the level of results needed to bump them off the bottom, but this is all about the Belgian.

The pattern seemed to be set for the year as Glock got ahead of the new addition to the team in qualifying, and although d’Ambrosio was classified ahead it was due to his team mate’s retirement on the 49th lap. It was a race of high attrition which gifted the rookie an impressive sounding 14th place at the days end, but with 6 drivers finishing early and 2 disqualified it wasn’t a representative result. Following on to Malaysia, Glock took top billing for the team and although d’Ambrosio managed to get ahead of both Hispania drivers with half a second to spare, he didn’t finish the race. With an accident on the 41nd lap his true pace was yet to be tested, but in China and Turkey the rookie was in front all weekend (but Glock didn’t start the race in Turkey due to a gearbox issue).

Getting to grips with the wet in Canada

Once the parade truly came to Europe though Glock regained his control and d’Ambrosio didn’t get a look in until Monaco, however this was similar to Turkey when his team mate’s disappointment allowed him to benefit. Glock’s suspension failure on the 30th lap seemed to pave the way for d’Ambrosio to simply finish ahead of him, but the young Belgian raced himself ahead of the Hispania duo that were slowly closing in. The set up was the same in Canada, Glock did the business in qualifying but come race day d’Ambrosio outshone the whole field of rookies in a race that saw the most experienced struggle in red-flag worthy conditions. We singled him out for the Rookie of the Race. Here he was the sole rookie driver crossing the finish line, not only getting ahead of the Lotus of Trulli, his team mate and Kathikeyan’s Hispania, but equalling his best result of the year so far. However since then Timo Glock has been the front runner for the team for the last four races.

The Verdict:

He’s an enthusiastic driver, who is eager to show off his talents to secure a place in Formula 1 for next year, like any other rookie driver (although this is not necessarily restricted to the young ones). However with a car cursed by it’s development it’s unlikely we will be able to see a true measure of his ability, this said his energy must be focused in continuing to push past his more experienced  team mate. For any driver on the grid, beating your team mate is a must from the beginning of the season, but when you’re hidden amongst the backmarkers it’s necessary to get the point across that you’re capable of more. What’s he’s doing so far is showing that he can beat Glock, even without disaster befalling the German which is essential, and that he can complete races well in difficult weather conditions.

Looking at his statistics for the year so far, he’s heading in the right direction by gaining position on race day compared to where he qualified. He’s fairly evenly split on outpacing Glock (5 out of 11) on Sundays, but it’s during qualifying that his struggles lie, getting those fast laps in on limited runs is a skill that comes with experience, but as everyone knows it’s the results on Sunday that matter. And the results that he’s gathered so far have placed him ahead of Glock in the driver standings, a good start for sure. But with half a season to go he’ll be looking for more consistency on race day and an improvement on Saturday. Although with a slow down on upgrades the Glock/d’Ambrosio pairing is up against it to keep in contention with Lotus and Hispania, but will the rookie be there next year? Virgin are happy for Glock to stay with the team, but are waiting until after the summer break to begin thinking about his 2012 team mate, although they are happy with his maturity and progress. It might not be the end of the Formula One dream for d’Ambrosio if he doesn’t get sign according to his manager Eric Boullier, apparently he’s looking at other teams for his client.

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