d’Ambrosio, van der Garde working in stealth mode
11 January 2012
The Benelux countries have been sparsely represented in motorsport's top flight in recent years, but two of its more prominent current stars believe that they still have a chance of landing an F1 race seat for 2012.
Jerome d'Ambrosio found himself the odd man out at Marussia Racing when Charles Pic appeared on the scene, while Giedo van der Garde has been quietly knocking on the F1 door for several seasons, apparently armed with a sponsor keen to expand its previous involvement in the series.
Both, however, are currently among a queue of drivers waiting to hear on the destiny of the two remaining vacancies, at Williams and HRT, before they can call themselves an F1 racer in 2012.
d'Ambrosio's management is confident that the Belgian - who did not disgrace himself alongside veteran Timo Glock at Marussia Virgin in 2011 - will be able to reveal his season's plans within the next ten days, although there was no hint whether it would involve a race or reserve role.
The 26-year old is represented by the same Gravity Sports Management team that vaulted GP2 champion Romain Grosjean back into the Renault - now Lotus F1 - team for 2012, and it is possible that d'Ambrosio could join the Frenchman by performing a back-up role at Enstone. However, the Belgian admits that he would prefer to compete this year, even if it means remaining at the back of the grid.
“We are thinking of the best solution for me to be in F1 for a long time," he told Belgium's La Derniere Heure, "Honestly, I'd prefer to race if I have the chance - and that possibility still exists.
“This week we have one last meeting and, with any luck, I will know very soon what I'll be doing this season.”
d'Ambrosio's manager, Benjamin Mignot, confirmed that a decision will be taken sooner rather than later, to ensure that his client is in a position to make the most of pre-season testing when it begins.
“A decision should be made within ten days in time for the start of winter testing at Jerez on 7 February,” he noted, “We are not spoken about much in the foreign press and that's fine, but I can assure you that we are still in the frame and that doors are still open.
“The situation is unchanged since Christmas. We have a reasonable budget for a F1 seat. I'm not talking about the amounts, but we consider Adrian Sutil the only real competitor.”
Ironically, Mignot's final comment would tend to suggest that d'Ambrosio is chasing the vacant seat at Williams, rather than HRT, which many outsiders believe that he is more likely to get. Sutil is known to have visited Williams' Grove facility before Christmas, and is listed in a group of hopefuls that also includes veteran Rubens Barrichello, former Lotus Renault pilots Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov and van der Garde, who shares common sponsorship ground with fashion brand McGregor.
Like d'Ambrosio, the Dutchman is preferring to keep a low profile while negotiations take place, but remains optimistic that a lengthy bid to break into the top flight will be resolved before too long.
“We are a little quiet, but we're working hard,” manager Jan-Paul ten Hoopen - who is also McGregor's commercial director - told f1today.nl, "We will let you know when there is any news."
While GP2 frontrunner van der Garde can also lean on billionaire father-in-law Marcel Boekhoorn, 2011 HRT incumbent Vitantonio Liuzzi can only wish for access to similar amounts of money.
Despite expressing a wish to remain with the Spanish minnow - and having a two-year deal, albeit one signed with the previous ownership - the Italian appears to be on the verge of losing his seat to a better-funded rival, with d'Ambrosio, Petrov and Senna rumoured to be chasing the seat alongside veteran returnee Pedro de la Rosa.
According to Belgium's La Libre newspaper, which quotes HRT technical director Jacky Eeckelaert, Liuzzi has not seized the chance to cement his place on the grid for 2012, despite occasionally helping HRT punch above its weight last season.
“He hasn't really confirmed himself after several chances, [and] we are looking more for a young driver with a lot of potential,” Eeckalaert explained, before going on to rule out the likes of Barrichello and a host of Spanish talent, including Jaime Alguersuari and Dani Clos, currently being linked to the soon-to-be Valencia-based squad.
“I don't think it's in the interests of the team to have a second Spanish driver,” he said, "and the same goes for the drivers approaching retirement.”
While his Russian backers may be of interest to HRT - despite its desire to be seen as having a greater Spanish aura this season - Petrov continues to be mentioned in connection with two seats that currently appear to be occupied.
The former Lotus Renault pilot has been linked to both Jarno Trulli's Caterham ride and the lead Marussia entry of Glock, despite both having apparently inked extensions to their contracts last summer.
Senna, meanwhile, has already been 'confirmed' at Williams by one if his sponsors - a claim denounced by both driver and team - but could still wind up filling the third driver role at Enstone if he fails to land a race seat.
Sutil and Barrichello continue to try and amass the financial backing needed to partner Pastor Maldonado at Williams, although the team is thought to look dimly on the German's apparent interest in replacing Felipe Massa at Ferrari in 2013. A similar far-reaching focus almost cost Sutil his ride at Force India for 2011, and could result in the German missing out altogether this year.
The remaining candidate for the vacant HRT seat, meanwhile, is understood to be former pilot Narain Karthikeyan, who is currently building support from his native India in a bid to return to the cockpit he vacated for Daniel Ricciardo midway through 2011.