Former Belgian grand prix drivers have hailed Jerome d'Ambrosio's elevation to Formula One as a good move for motorsport in the new Marussia Virgin Racing's homeland.
The GP2 Series racewinner - who finally broke through in Monaco this season after several close calls with the top step of the podium - was revealed as Timo Glock's 2011 team-mate by the Dinnington-based squad on Tuesday, ending speculation over the identity of its second driver following d'Ambrosio's successful stint as a Friday test driver towards the end of the F1 campaign. The Belgian replaces Brazilian Lucas di Grassi, who departs the line-up completely, while Luiz Razia remains as test and reserve driver.
"I think it's a wonderful Christmas gift for all fans of motorsport in Belgium," former Ferrari and Lotus driver Jacky Ickx insisted in an interview with RTBF
, "as well as a gift for all those who worked on his accession to F1. The contract may only last for one year, but it is most important to have one foot in the door and then do the best he can with the material that he has. [Virgin] is not the best team, but it may be better because he will not be asked to produce the impossible at first. He will learn, develop and become totally professional. Then he can wait for the return on that effort and climb the ladder."
d'Ambrosio, whose 2010 campaign actually saw him dropped for one race by the DAMS team in an effort to discover the cause of a mid-season slump in form, revealed that he had been told of his big opportunity the night before the deal was made public.
"It's a nice Christmas gift, and also a nice birthday gift because I was born on 27 December," he smiled, "There were some long weeks of waiting before everything was finally concluded. I heard the news last night and did not sleep much because I was so excited."
The confirmation of his F1 deal comes 16 years after his first outing in kart and despite the Belgian finishing only twelfth in the GP2 standings.
"It's a huge emotion - this is a dream come true because I am doing a full grand prix season," he admitted, "It's great, but I must not get carried away by emotions as the hard work starts now. I've been through difficult times, but this is an opportunity to grasp. On 3 January, everything starts working. There will be physical training courses, visits to the factory, moulding the tub, promotional activities, so I'll be busy until early February.
"Everyone is extremely happy. The 'phone keeps ringing, and it's good because it means that there is interest in having a Belgian driver in F1. Now it is up to me to take this opportunity and stay as long as possible to ensure that Belgium will be in F1 for a long time."
The last Belgian driver to grace the top flight with any success - Bertrand Gachot was the country's most recent representative - also had some good advice for his compatriot.