F1 » Lucas di Grassi
Having spent four years in the Renault Driver Development Programme, Lucas di Grassi finally becomes a full-time member of the Formula One fraternity thanks in part to Max Mosley's expansion plan legacy, after one of the out-going FIA president's additions to the field, Virgin Racing, recognised the Brazilian's talent.
Lucas began his racing career in karting in Brazil with immediate success, becoming Sao Paulo champion in 1997, Brazilian champion the following year, and finally South American champions in 1999. The winning trend continued in 2000 with a Pan-American title and a fifth place in World Cup Formula A.
In 2002, he graduated to cars and was runner-up in the Formula Renault series in Brazil, before moving to Formula 3 in 2003 and finishing runner-up in the South American championship.
From there, he headed to Europe and a move to the UK saw Lucas begin his association with the Renault Driver Development Programme. A solid first season in the British F3 Championship brought two wins and six podiums en route
to eighth in the standings with Hitech Racing, while a trip to the celebrated Guia circuit also proved fruitful with a third place finish at the Macau Grand Prix.
Again with RDD backing, Lucas moved on to the fiercely competitive F3 Euroseries in 2005 and with seven podiums - including one win - he finished third in the championship, 'best of the rest' after Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil, who dominated for ASM.
The defining moment in '05 though was his victory on the streets of Macau, as he took overall victory in the F3 race and was subsequently named best under-21 South American driver by a panel of expert journalists.
That success was enough to propel him into GP2, F1's feeder category, with Team Durango the following year and, although he ended the year 17th in the standings, having scored eight points, he did enough to show that he could be a frontrunner.
That solid first year provided enough experience to launch a title-assault in 2007 with ART Grand Prix, and the Brazilian competed strongly to end the season as runner-up in a closely-fought title race with Timo Glock, only narrowly missing out on securing the crown at the final round.
He also furthered his F1 ambitions by testing with the BMW Sauber team, but his hopes of graduating to a race seat in 2008 not only failed to materialise, but also cost him a potential title shot in GP2. Although he remained a part of the RDD, and became a part of Renault's F1 testing strength, all the best seats in the feeder series had gone ahead of the season-opener. Undaunted, di Grassi kept his name in the frame, and was eventually snapped up by Campos Racing ahead of round four. Immediately on the pace, having helped with the testing of the second-generation GP2 Dallara, di Grassi was the highest-scoring driver in his first two meetings and went on to take a couple of race wins, but saw his title hopes ended by a clash with eventual champion Giorgio Pantano at Spa.
Having ended the year just ten points shy of the Italian, having driven six fewer races, Lucas replaced Pantano at Racing Engineering for 2009, again combining his ride with RDD commitments, but could only manage third overall in the standings after a difficult - and somewhat unlucky - campaign.
His performances continued to catch the eye, however, and, with FIA president Mosley opening up the F1 field to newcomers for 2010, the extra seats finally provided the opening that di Grassi had been looking for. Having been linked to a number of teams over the winter, he was eventually confirmed alongside former GP2 sparring partner Glock at Virgin Racing, incidentally reuniting with erstwhile F3 boss John Booth, whose Manor Motorsport operation initiated the F1 bid.
Having made the grade, the pressure was on di Grassi to perform, although little was expected of Virgin's all-CFD contender in the early part of the season. More importantly, how he matched up to Glock would be the key to his future in the category, with more than a few doubters wondering what he was doing in F1.
As expected, the VR-01 was no match for the established teams, but it provided useful competition for Lotus throughout the season, especially once the embarrassing fuel tank and gearbox problems had been addressed. di Grassi, however, was only occasionally the man to lead the attack, although he still ended the year classified ahead of his team-mate by dint of a best result of 14th - in China - as neither scored a point.
It wasn't enough to keep di Grassi on board, though, and the Brazilian, having openly admitted before the end of the season that he may be better off looking for a testing role, ultimately saw his seat go to rookie Jerome d'Ambrosio for 2011. Almost immediately, however, he was linked to a possible development position with Pirelli, a role he took on and ultimately combined with selected sportscar outings with Audi that would lead to a full-time commitment from the sportscar giant for 2013.