Jérôme d'Ambrosio has shrugged off the pressure of carrying a weight of expectation upon his shoulders as the first Belgian driver to compete at the highest level for 17 years in F1 2011 – and he insists that if he just gets quietly on with the job in-hand, then the results will take care of themselves.
d'Ambrosio has been recruited by F1 2010 newcomer Virgin Racing to partner Timo Glock in-place of Lucas Di Grassi this season, and his presence on the grid represents an undeniable boost for a nation that – Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen aside – does not boast the most glittering record of success in the top flight, and whose last representative was the hapless Philippe Adams, who began two races for Lotus back in 1994. If there is pressure to perform, however, then the rookie points out that there is a great deal of pride in his graduation, too.
“The other day I went into a couple of shops and both times they recognised me,” d'Ambrosio told Crash.net
. “That was a first for me. I didn't go out so much after the announcement as I was quite busy, but recently I was in the city. It's funny, but people in Belgium have a lot of respect as well so I don't feel under pressure. They were just wishing me good luck for the season and were really proud. It's great to hear people saying that.
“It's been 17 years, yeah [since there was last a Belgian driver on the grand prix grid] – it's something fantastic, but now I have to get the most out of this chance. I've realised that people in Belgium love F1; I couldn't have expected such a reaction and I didn't expect that reaction, that everyone is so enthusiastic about it, and I'll do my best so I can stay as long as possible in F1.”
His own enthusiasm for the task ahead is similarly infectious, and whilst stressing that he is looking forward to all of the grands prix equally, the 25-year-old does concede that he holds a particular affection for his home circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, a favourite amongst nearly all of the drivers but also a track that over the last decade or so has been repeatedly threatened with the axe.
“I can't wait for all
the races, but Spa of course will be special,” he reflected. “Silverstone will be special, too, because it's the home race for the team and driving the track there is fantastic – Becketts, Copse, everything is special – but also Spa, Monaco, Suzuka... I cannot wait to be out there!
“For me, Spa is very important. It's my home grand prix, and more than being just my home grand prix, it's one of the nicest circuits in the world. I drive for the thrill it gives me and for the sensations I get, and Spa gives me many emotions when I go round the track. For that reason, I want it to stay on the calendar, and I hope it does.”
Of course, the ultimate measure of d'Ambrosio's talent and potential will be the manner in which he stacks up against Glock – an area in which his predecessor Di Grassi notably struggled. As one of the most underrated drivers in F1, to match the German will be no mean feat – but the GP2 Series race-winner is confident he will be up to the task.
“He's experienced and very fast, but a very open guy,” he revealed, in stark contrast to Vitaly Petrov's description of his own Lotus Renault GP team-mate Robert Kubica [see separate story – click here
]. “It's one of the great opportunities I have this year, to have a team-mate like Timo. I can really learn from him. I'm just focussing on what I have to do – and if I do my job, the results will come naturally.”