F1 » Davide Valsecchi
Davide Valsecchi is at the vanguard of a group of Italian drivers attempting to return the once-powerful nation to the grand prix grid following Jarno Trulli's departure at the end of 2011.
Having had his interest in motorsport piqued by the gift of a kart at the age of four, it was no surprise that Valsecchi was eager to go as far as he could, quickly eschewing the traditional training ground to jump into single-seaters at the earliest opportunity. Aged just 16, he was already competing in the national two-litre Formula Renault category, achieving a best championship finish of seventh overall in his third season, albeit without visting the top step of the podium.
By 2006, and with sporadic F3, F3000 Italia and sportscar outings also under his belt, Valsecchi had decided that he needed a change of scene and, staying within the Renault family, stepped up to the 3.5-litre World Series. The move appeared to pay off as he immediately finished tenth in the championship at the first attempt. Ironically, he didn't win until the following year but, despite visiting the podium three times including the victory, his championship ranking slipped six spots.
Undeterred, the Italian continued to push forward with his career, switching to the GP2 Series with Durango for 2008. After taking eighth overall in the Asia Series, he appeared well placed to continue his progress in the main championship, but a 175mph accident in qualifying for the races at Istanbul Park sidelined him with fractures in his back. Incredibly, Valsecchi was back in the cockpit before the end of the year and, even more remarkably, was able to claim his first GP2 victory, taking top spot in the Monza finale despite a run of points finishes having been interrupted by another major off at Spa.
The incomplete season left him 15th in the standings, but Valsecchi had shown enough for the Durango team to retain him for the 2009 season, and also for Renault to include him as part of its Driver Development Programme, which cast its net in search of future F1 talent. After finishing fourth overall, with one victory, in the Asia Series, a slow start to the main campaign left Valsecchi trailing in the points race, and even a late season switch to the frontrunning Barwa Addax squad - replacing Romain Grosjean, who had been called up to replace Nelson Piquet Jr in the Renault F1 line-up - could not lift him above 17th overall.
With little in the way of openings in F1, Valsecchi was resigned to another year of GP2 in 2010, and joined iSport International in search of the winning formula that could propel him to championship success. Again, the Asia Series provided encouragement as three wins and two second places in the first five races helped guide him to the title. The main series, however, proved frustrating once more, despite the Italian claiming his first GP2 pole and again winning the final race of the season.
Eighth in the standings was Valsecchi's best yet, but another year in GP2 beckoned in 2011, and once more with another different team. Thanks to a deal to test for the Team Lotus, the Italian signed to drive for Tony Fernandes' new Team AirAsia operation alongside Luiz Razia, but teething troubles ensured that he was unable to retain the Asia Series title. The summer championship, however, initially looked more promising, with victory in Monaco boosting Valsecchi's stock, only for the second half of the season to be a lesson in frustration as he failed to score in ten straight races, slipping back to eighth in the championship as a result.
Having watched Grosjean relaunch his career with DAMS, Valsecchi grabbed one of the seats at the French team for 2012, and underlined the wisdom of the move by making a strong start to the year. Without the scrapped Asia Series as a warm-up, Valsecchi made the most of his experience on the circuits it had used by dominating the two Bahrain meetings and stretching out an early points advantage. Although former team-mate Razia gradually erased the gap during the height of the summer, it was Valsecchi, with a fourth win of the year at the equally happy hunting ground of Monza, who re-established the upper hand heading into the Singapore finale, and a couple of measured drives ensured that he finally claimed a crown he had been chasing for five seasons.
With a taste of F1 thanks to test and practice outings with both Hispania Racing and Team Lotus in 2010-11, Valsecchi was already on the radar of teams in the top flight, and he was invited to run with the 'other' Lotus team at the Abu Dhabi 'young driver' test as a result of his GP2 success. The former Renault F1 team was impressed with what it saw from the Italian, who briefly appeared to be in the running for a race seat until doubts over Grosjean's future were dispelled in early December.
Although race seats remained up for grabs further down the grid, Valsecchi sensed that his best option of a top level drive lay in the future, and he duly made his bed at Enstone, signing to become Lotus F1's official test and reserve driver while former GP2 rivals Luiz Razia, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde all opted for back of the pack deals with Caterham (nee Team Lotus) and Marussia.