‘I never believed I couldn’t make it’ – d’Ambrosio


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Jerome d'Ambrosio, Virgin, 2011

Kamui Kobayashi was the stand-out rookie of 2010. But you might not have seen it coming based on his GP2 form: 23 points from 40 races.

Now his former team mate Jerome d’Ambrosio is set to make his Formula 1 debut . Can he emulate Kobayashi by securing his future in Formula 1?

F1 Fanatic spoke exclusively to the Virgin driver in Valencia.

The first thing to know about Jerome d’Ambrosio is he likes a laugh. At the launch of the MVR-02 today he joked that he didn’t really like new team mate Timo Glock, but was pretending to in order to gain the benefit of Glock’s experience.

And when I said to him in Valencia that it must be exciting for him to be taking his first steps as an F1 driver, he looked at me and deadpanned: “No, it wasn’t.”

Then he breaks into a smile. “No, of course, it was a very special day. I have been driving a racing car before but obviously yesterday was special because I was driving with in mind the preparation for my first Grand Prix.

“So the atmosphere was different. Of course, I’m here as a Grand Prix driver and it’s great, I couldn’t be more happy.”

D’Ambrosio describes his arrival in F1 as taking the “normal route” – until the money ran out:

“Everything went pretty smoothly for me until Formula Renault two-litre. I won my first year in Renault 1.6 then I finished best rookie in the French championship in 2004, in Renault two-litre.

“But then I had a big issue with the budget and things like that and I had to move around a little bit. It was not easy. I bounced back in Formula Master which put me back on the right way.”

The short-lived series wound up in 2009 after producing just three champions, the first of which was d’Ambrosio.

“After Formula Master it’s been as I see that year was everything for me. I had very low budget and I was pushed to win it and win it big time. So I did it and it allowed me to go and meet Gravity.”

Gravity Sports Management, which boasts such talent as Romain Grosjean, helped d’Ambrosio in more ways than one:

“I was taken into the Gravity programme at that moment and I’m really lucky to be in a structure like that.

“It’s probably one if, if not the best the management structures around. They have quite a lot of drivers. It is not only sponsorship – people think that that’s it but it goes much further than that, it’s education as a driver, physical training, the way you handle yourself in everyday life.

“It’s not just like ‘here you go, you are a Gravity driver, we’ll sponsor you and let’s go racing. It’s the build-up of the driver, the construction. I’d say as much as the financial side it’s the way they allow you to grow as a driver, as a person and this is why, in the end, I was ready when the chance came.”

But his chance did not come with a quiet run at an F1 test away from the cameras. His first laps in a Formula 1 car came with Virgin during practice for the Singapore Grand Prix last year – on a track he’d never driven on before, in wet conditions, at night:

Jerome d'Ambrosio, Virgin, Singapore, 2010

“It’s tough, you get your first chance in an F1 car at Singapore in the rain – a street circuit, and it’s dark. And then you have to perform.

“And in the end with all the tools that Gravity has given me through the last three years I was able to do something good.”

The team were impressed with the quality of technical feedback from the driver whom the mechanics had already dubbed ‘Custard’.

More followed with subsequent tests in Japan, Korea and Brazil. That secured his promotion to the race team in 2011 in place of Lucas di Grassi.

As the new car was only launched today, d’Ambrosio drove last year’s car in Valencia:

“The positive point about that is you can make a clear comparison with last year’s tyres because the car is the same. It was good for me to get a first feel of what the tyre was like, so I think it was pretty positive for me yesterday. We went through our programme it was more

“We had a smooth day, not many problems, nothing big, just getting back into it and getting as much info as we can on the tyres, this was the big objective.”

His objective for the season is simple: keep Glock in sight and secure his place in the top flight of motor sport:

“We want to make a big step forward. You have no certain answer until you hit the track in Bahrain and you know, plus or minus, where you are.

“Of course we’re going to get an idea of where we are in Barcelona and Jerez, but it always takes a while.

“Timo is highly rated in the paddock, he’s a great driver, a very complete driver. So I need to be as close as possible to him as quickly as possible and just try to learn a lot and get the best result for the season.

“For me the main important thing for this season is that it will be a good season if it allows me to continue in Formula 1.”

D’Ambrosio’s arrival also means that, for the first time since 1993, Belgian fans will have a home driver to cheer on at Spa. D’Ambrosio says he faced scepticism from people who thought a Belgian would not make it in Formula 1:

“In Belgium, we don’t have big companies. The market of Belgium is different from, maybe, China.

“So people in Belgium, since I started, always thought that being a Belgian meant I wasn’t going to make it in Formula 1 because you need to be in a big market.

“I never wanted to believe this. And in the end I think it’s mentality, I just thought ‘if you’re good enough, you can make it, no matter where you’re from, because they need good drivers.’

“If you’re good, if you’re dedicated, you will get a chance. I had my chance, I think I took it last year and they gave me the opportunity to be a Grand Prix driver and it’s something great. I have to take it as well. It’s an opportunity, it’s more than an achievement at the moment it’s a great opportunity that I need to use.

“I think that if you put yourself limits, if you believe you’re not going to make something, or it’s impossible, you’re not going to make it. You’re going to convince yourself it’s impossible. I never want to fall into that.

“It’s great for Belgium and the feedback has been amazing. Since I signed there has been an interest that I could never tell you was going to happen.”

Images © Virgin Racing, F1 Fanatic, Virgin Racing

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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36 comments on “‘I never believed I couldn’t make it’ – d’Ambrosio”

  1. It’s going to be a tough season for Jerome, The Virgin will be in a league of two with Hispania since Lotus will definitely be up there in the mid-field.

    1. Looks like it.

      1. The Sri Lnakan
        7th February 2011, 22:25

        look at the bright side….he can try to be the best of four drivers

    2. I think that there is every chance that both Virgin and HRT will be much nearer to the midfield teams (Lotus included) than many may think.

      The Virgin car improved quite a bit over the last few races of the season, and the HRT car is now being designed and built by people who have previously designed and built race winning F1 cars.

      1. Maybe Virgin.
        Not HRT.

        1. Probably best to just leave the largest ‘?’ over HRT, seeing a) how close the cut it to making the grid in 2010 and b) how much money do they actually have. They havent announced their 2nd driver, never mind the actual car!

          As for d’Ambrosio, he seems a nice lad and obviously has done enough to make it to Formula 1. But making it to, and making it in in F1 are 2 completely different things. Hopefully (for his sake, and Virgins) he puts in some good races and places. Its hard though to look at any new driver and wonder which side of the revolving door they will come out at. Best of luck to him.

    3. What proof do you have that lotus will be up in the midfield. The fact that they spend more than sauber and tororosso?

      1. That single fact might be decisive, yes. It enables them to get the RB rear end and maintain a good team and solid line up.

        Sauber is left to a gamble, although they have the advantage of a superb technical base to use (meaning less need to hire expensive external suppliers).

  2. ‘if you’re good enough, you can make it, no matter where you’re from, because they need good drivers.’

    That implicitly means he rates himself as a good driver.
    Good, I like optimistic (but not cocky) drivers.

    1. What driver doesn’t?

      I hope he shows us some driving just as interesting as Kobayashi has shown so far, that would make for a bit of interest amongst the second half of the grid.

  3. Custard

    Brilliant! Ooo, arr.

    Jerome seems like a really nice guy and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the jump, especially joining a backmarker team in need of making big steps to avoid being left behind.

    1. Yeah my thoughts exactly. He’s got his head screwed on, his attitude is good, he seems very well balanced. Here’s hoping he has that x factor that turns a nice balanced guy in to a winner. ( compare David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen )

  4. I wish the guy the best of luck.

  5. typo: he likes at laugh =)

    1. Keith was probably influenced by D’Ambrosio’s Denglish (Dutch Enlgish) :p I caught a couple of translations, presumably made by D’Ambrosio, that are word for word Dutch turns of phrase :)

      It doesn’t matter. He comes across as a nice guy who’s worked hard to get to where he is and I wish him all the best at achieving success :)

      1. D’Ambrosio doesn’t speak Dutch. He speaks French. He recently started learning Dutch, so it couldn’t be Denglish…

        Just wanted to mention that ;-)

    2. Fixed it, thanks.

  6. So apparently Virgin are now racing under a Russian licence! Which, as Manor is a Yorkshire team makes perfect F1 sense. Fair play to them and their marketing department, is the white rose still on the car?

    D’Ambrosio seems a nice bloke, good luck to him hope the cars up to it.

    1. is the white rose still on the car?

      Couldn’t see one – there are Kappa logos where the old one used to be.

      In any case, it’s not a rose, it’s a daisy. This is a rose.

      1. Although a Lancashire Rose rather than a Yorkshire one…. ;-)

        1. lol Lancashire, Yorkshire WHAT REALLY IS TEH DIFFERANCE!


          Not really sure how I managed to mix those two up, I blame the parents.

          Still, Lancashire, famously twinned with Vladimirskaya.

    2. Instead of a white rose, they now sport a white nose!

  7. I think that if you put yourself limits, if you believe you’re not going to make something, or it’s impossible, you’re not going to make it. You’re going to convince yourself it’s impossible. I never want to fall into that.

    He is awseome. A new favourite of mine, also so him and Wirth at Autosport International, very humble guy it seems.

  8. As a Belgian I really really hope he can show us what he gots!
    He mostly got the upperhand from Koboyashi in GP2, so I hope he can keep up with Glock, who I rate pretty high.

    1. Right. A completely booked Spa and a Belgian in the points would be good for starters, wouldn’t it.

  9. A racing driver with a sense of humour. I like him already. Far too many of them sound a little stuffy, as if they’re trying to be careful what they say lest they reflect poorly on a sponsor.

  10. Is it me or is he almost a deadringer for francois cevert?

    1. I didnt see it at first, but on 2nd viewing your right. Scary…

    2. That’s what I thought when I saw the picture at the top too

    3. Wow, you’re right. That’s scary!

  11. For me being a Belgian it was good news that he got the seat. But after all the demo’s he did for Renault last year I hoped he might get a shot at renault maybe 2011 or 2012. That was probably being a bit too optimistic.
    Now I just hope he can keep up with Glock and impress some other teams maybe…

    He said on the Belgian news that his year would be a success if he managed to score 1 point. Hopefully with some luck and maybe a good enough car he will get this goal.

  12. Very nice bloke. I will support him as well as Koba and traditionally Alo. Instead of Robert though, I will support the whole team Lotus-Renault.

  13. kamui kobayashi= effing legend. ;) so glad he’s in f1 from pure talent. good luck to jerome, hope belgium has a new star.

  14. With this interview d’Ambrosio has made a good impression on me. I like drivers that actually have a sense of humor and some confidence about them. I hope he does really well and I hope Virgin does as well. d’Ambrosio and Glock could make a really could pairing, a proven talent and a new one eager to prove itself :)

    I hope Virgin, HRT and Lotus all take a step up this year, and provide each other with some fierce competition!

    1. I actually hope and fear, that some of these guys will be regularly threathening at least Torro Rosso and possibly the odd Williams, Sauber, Force India, Mercedes, Renault (dependant on current form, drivers having trouble with the tyres/tracks/circumstances)

  15. funny, I used to go to the same school as this guy. He was karting champion back in 2002, and it looks like all that hard work has persevered. Ideally the next step for him will be to the works Renault team (since he has been back by them for a few years now). Though if he impresses on merit he can step out and find drives based on his talent alone

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