A heavy downpour before the start of first free practice did not bode well for F1's latest arrival, but Virgin Racing reserve Jerome d'Ambrosio acquitted himself well on his debut in Singapore.

The Belgian stepped over from Renault, and up from the GP2 Series, to replace fellow rookie Lucas di Grassi in the opening 90-minute practice session on the Marina Bay street circuit and, despite the tricky conditions brought on by the earlier rain and humidity that refused to allow the track to dry completely, did well to wind up just two tenths slower than established team-mate Timo Glock.

"It is difficult for any driver to adequately describe the feeling of driving an F1 car - the awesome power and enormous braking in particular - but combined with the whole night race experience as well, today has been a very special day for me," d'Ambrosio admitted, "The conditions this morning were very tricky, so there was a lot to get to grips with, and it was always going to take time to get up to speed.

"When the track did dry out, my times started to drop and I was really pleased with where I ended up. It has been a good start for me and I'm looking forward to continually improving during the Friday morning sessions of the next three races. I would like to thank the team for looking after me so well - they are a great bunch of people and I am enjoying being part of Virgin Racing."

Team principal John Booth confirmed that the new boy had impressed on his first run, particularly as he had emerged ahead of returnee Christian Klien and Lotus' Fairuz Fauzy.

"We are extremely pleased with how the day has gone," Booth commented, "We've shown some good pace today, on both wet and dry tyres, and all three drivers did a very professional job in difficult conditions. We do have a few issues to resolve before tomorrow's running, but generally a good start to the weekend.

"Jerome did a fantastic job for his first time out in the car, particularly as there was a lot of media attention on him. To achieve the time he set, and be the quickest of the three 'Friday drivers', was fantastic for him."

Klien, meanwhile, returned to the role of race driver for the first time in three years, but struggled to extract any extra pace from an HRT machine that has yet to be updated in 2010. Crucially for the cash-strapped outfit, however, both the Austrian and team-mate Bruno Senna kept their cars out of the wall.

"I am happy to be back racing, which wasn't easy at the beginning of the first session as I only did 40 laps in this car before," Klien admitted, "But I felt more and more comfortable in the cockpit and could learn a lot and get more experience. I found a good pace on the prime tyres even if I lost some time on the options compared to my team-mate. I am looking forward to tomorrow and I hope to improve again."

Also making a return to the cockpit was veteran Nick Heidfeld, rescued from testing duties at Mercedes and Pirelli to replace Pedro de la Rosa at Sauber.

"Given it was my first day back in the team, and also in the 2010 car, I'm very happy," the German commented, "I enjoyed driving a lot although, at the beginning, it was a bit difficult because the track was wet. I just took it easy and tried to do as many laps as possible.

"The track itself with regard to the bumps has improved compared to 2009 but, for the second session, we changed a few things. It is clear two sessions are not enough to analyse everything, but I see many areas where we can improve the set-up of the car and areas where I can improve in getting the best out of it."

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