As we wind down the remaining days of the calendar year, the final few seats are closing for the 2011 Formula One World Championship after both Renault and Virgin have officially confirmed their rosters for next season.
After much speculation and a change of ownership, the Lotus Renault GP team has confirmed that rookie Russian driver Vitaly Petrov will stay with the team to drive alongside fellow incumbent Robert Kubica for another two years. The announcement comes several weeks after widely-publicized negotiations with Kimi Raikkonen broke down.
The Virgin team, which has likewise rebranded as Marussia Virgin Racing, has also confirmed its drivers for next season, with Timo Glock staying on and newcomer Jerome d'Ambrosio taking the second seat. The Belgian driver won the International Formula Master in 2007 and placed second in the GP2 Asia Series in 2008/09. After a year as a Renault reserve driver, d'Ambrosio will replace Lucas di Grassi.
Shortly after the announcement, di Grassi made headlines by winning Felipe Massa's charity karting event in Brazil ahead of Massa, Williams veteran Rubens Barrichello and Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari. Did Virgin act too hastily? Only time will tell.
There are just six seats still unconfirmed at Force India, Toro Rosso and HRT, and the 2011 F1 season is scheduled to kick off on March 13 in Bahrain. Follow the jump for the official announcements from both teams.
[Sources: Renault, Virgin]
Vitaly Petrov completes Lotus Renault GP driver line-up for 2011 and 2012
Lotus Renault GP is delighted to announce that Vitaly Petrov will complete its driver line-up for the 2011 and 2012 Formula 1 seasons. He will partner Robert Kubica next year.
Gérard Lopez, Chairman of Lotus Renault GP, commented: "We're delighted to have Vitaly on board for another two years. Last season, he showed on several occasions that he clearly has the potential to deliver. It was just a matter of putting everything together during the same weekend, race after race, and this will be his target for 2011. Also, thanks to Vitaly and the team, Russia is opening up to Formula 1. Over the past few months, we've established close links with this country and with some of its strongest companies. We're looking forward to building on this special relationship and turning it into a very successful adventure over the next two seasons."
Eric Boullier, Lotus Renault GP Team Principal, commented: "We are very pleased to confirm that Vitaly will be staying with us for 2011 and 2012, in order that both he and the team can build on a promising 2010 campaign. The entire team has been working flat out over the past months to improve our competitiveness, and a stable driver line-up is essential to achieving our targets. Robert Kubica provides a remarkable benchmark for both speed and consistency, and we are certain that Vitaly will move closer to this level of performance next year."
Vitaly Petrov commented: "I am very happy to continue with the team and proud to be representing Lotus Renault GP for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. I learned a lot about the sport, the circuits and the car this year. That will help me improve even more in the future. I am very excited about working with this great team once more, and I'm confident that I will deliver. In many ways, 2010 was about learning. 2011 will be about performing. Today, I feel I am ready to rise to this challenge."
Q&A with Vitaly Petrov
Vitaly, how does it feel to be confirmed at Lotus Renault GP?
It feels great. I learned so much this year and I know that I can come back stronger in 2011. I'm extremely proud to be part of this team and I'm determined to repay the faith they have shown in me.
Looking back on your rookie season, what did you enjoy the most?
There were a lot of special moments. The race in Shanghai is something that I will always remember when I overtook Schumacher and Webber to score my first points. Then, the first time I made Q3 in Turkey was an important step for me. And, of course, the race in Hungary was probably my best weekend when everything came together for me.
How has your life change since you became an F1 driver?
There's a lot more travelling and not a lot of time for myself, but I will never complain because I love what I'm doing. I still feel like a boy at Christmas every time I get in the car. Life is not as easy as people think, of course, and there's a lot more to F1 than driving the car, but it's an amazing experience and I know I'm lucky to be one of just 24 drivers on the grid.
Do you feel at home at Lotus Renault GP?
Yes, definitely. Previous drivers have always said that there is a special atmosphere here and I have to say I agree with them. The team is very warm, friendly and open, and I get on really well with the guys.
Can you feel the growing support for F1 from Russia?
Definitely. I get more support from my country every week. In fact, recently one of the major lifestyle magazines included me in their top ten most attractive single men of Russia! You can feel that the sport is becoming more popular and soon we will have our own Grand Prix, which will create more interest. Even our prime minister, Mr Putin, got a taste of F1 when he tried a Renault F1 car earlier this year.
What will be the main challenges of 2011?
There are quite a few changes that we have to adapt to as a team: new tyres, moveable rear wings and KERS, which I've never used before. There's even a new race in India. So there are some things to adapt to, but they should improve the show and make for better racing. I've already seen the new car in the wind tunnel and it looks very promising. I also love our new colours and can't wait to get back in the car and go racing.
What do you hope to achieve in your second season?
My objective is to continue improving as a driver and to become more consistent. There were times this year when I made mistakes and lost points, and I know this is where I can improve. I think I showed that I have the speed, but I need to be consistent over the whole weekend and get the maximum from every session.
What is your plan over the next couple of months before testing begins in February?
I was thinking about spending a few days in Maranello this winter, but I have been told it probably wasn't the best idea... Seriously, after a busy year I'm taking the time to go back home and see my family and friends. It's also the time to recharge my batteries so that I can come back fresh next year. I'm already working hard on my fitness and doing lots of training to be ready for the start of the season. Then, in January, I will be at the factory to see my engineers and for my seat-fit in the new car.
The new face of Virgin Racing - Jerome d'Ambrosio to partner Timo Glock
The Marussia Virgin Racing Formula One team is delighted to announce that it has signed rising talent Jerome D'Ambrosio to partner Timo Glock in 2011.
Last month, the 25 year old Belgian successfully concluded an evaluation role with the team, which saw him take part in the Free Practice 1 sessions of the Singapore, Japanese, Korean and Brazilian Grands Prix. In addition, he conducted a further half day programme at the wheel of the VR-01 race car during the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test following the concluding round of the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship.
The aim of the programme was to evaluate Jerome's potential for a race seat with the team and his speed and excellent technical feedback saw him pass the test with flying colours.
Jerome has spent the last four seasons competing in the GP2 Series, prior to which he raced in the GP2 Asia series, International Formula Master, the F3000 Euroseries and Formula Renault. Alongside his 2010 GP2 commitments he has also held the role of Reserve and Test Driver for the Renault F1 Team.
Jerome's first official duties will commence early next year with the launch of the VR-02, Marussia Virgin Racing's contender for the 2011 season. He will then commence pre-season testing alongside his 28 year old German team-mate Timo Glock in Valencia in February.
Marussia Virgin Racing Team Principal, John Booth, commented: "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. 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 One 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.
"Timo has done an excellent job for us in our debut season, in often challenging circumstances. There is no doubt that he has helped us to establish a strong foundation from which to develop the team and the package. We look forward to being in a much stronger position to deliver the car he deserves in 2011.
"Finally, I must thank Lucas di Grassi for the important role that he also played in establishing the team. 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."
Marussia Virgin Racing's new driver, Jerome D'Ambrosio, commented: "I'm thrilled to have achieved my goal of a Formula One race seat with Marussia Virgin Racing. 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. I feel very comfortable with them - 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. I would like to thank everyone at Marussia Virgin Racing for the faith they have shown in me and everyone at Gravity Sport Management for the support they have given to my career so far."
Timo Glock said: "My congratulations to Jerome on joining the team and I look forward to working with him next year. After a tough but rewarding debut season for our team we now have a lot of hard work to do to take Marussia Virgin Racing to the level we should be performing at in 2011. I for one cannot wait to get started in the new car when testing begins in February."