Lucas Di Grassi may be as much of an F1 Virgin as his team in 2010, but the Brazilian is nonetheless one of the most experienced and well-prepared drivers to graduate to the grand prix grid in recent years – and the team, he insists, will not be found lacking in the performance stakes.
Di Grassi will make his long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated F1 debut in 2010 with Virgin Racing – formerly Manor Grand Prix – and he enters the fray with a wealth of testing experience under his belt from two seasons' spent as a reserve driver at Renault, and with a strong reputation built off the back of three title-challenging campaigns in the feeder GP2 Series.
Virgin is more of an unknown quantity – as are all of the F1 2010 newcomers, truth be told – but Di Grassi is positive that the combined skills, talent and experience of Manor founder John Booth, esteemed designer Nick Wirth and charismatic Virgin figurehead Richard Branson will stand the Sheffield and Bicester-based outfit in fine stead indeed for its maiden season of top flight competition.
“I think firstly, the Virgin Group is a very solid company,” the Paulista explained, speaking to Crash.net Radio
. “It's a worldwide, multi-national company that is not going to come into the sport to do a bad job. They are entering the sport now to do a good job in the medium/long-term, and they have a solid background.
“They have also built a solid relationship with John and with Nick; not only on the technical side but in every aspect – from marketing to finances – the team is very, very well-structured. That was the main reason – apart from knowing John for a long time and knowing Nick – that I chose to come to Virgin, and I hope my relationship with them continues as well as it has started.
“I think the other new teams who are also building the car from scratch will be our main reference for next year. We won't be able to measure exactly where we are until we put the car on the track – but I'm very confident that Nick can deliver a very, very high standard of work.”
As to his own personal goals, Di Grassi is clear, and he hopes that the ban on refuelling for 2010 will create more of a level playing field amongst drivers from the 'off' next year. The Paulista has as his team-mate highly-rated Toyota F1 refugee Timo Glock – with whom he duelled tooth-and-nail for the GP2 laurels in 2007, ultimately losing out by eleven points in the final reckoning – and he admits that the primary objective will be to get on terms with the man with the same equipment underneath him as he has.
“Timo finished in the top ten in the championship last year, he has had great results in the past and he is considered a very good driver in F1,” mused the 25-year-old. “He will be a reference for me as a starting-point. It's much better for me to have a driver that is considered more experienced than I am in F1 so I can learn from him and push myself. That's what I will try to do, and at the same time as trying to improve the team and work as a team-mate, I will be trying to beat him on the track. I think it's going to be a healthy relationship – pushing each other and together pushing the team.
“I will work as hard as I can – with much less experience and being younger as well – to match his results as a baseline for me. It doesn't matter where we are or what the results are, I will push hard and try to improve myself as a driver and try to learn Formula 1 as best I can. Next year there is a change in regulations – different to what everyone already in F1 has known before – so everything will be pretty much new to everyone, and from the amount of testing that I have had in the past, I think I have a good chance of adapting quickly.”
TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE