Virgin confirms new reserve driver Wickens
(GMM) Despite playing down the rumors mere days ago, Virgin boss John Booth on Friday confirmed Robert Wickens as the team's new reserve driver.
It had been reported Canadian Wickens, 22, backed substantially by Virgin team sponsor and investor Marussia, was set to join the British based team.
But Booth said two weeks ago: "Robert is concentrating on his Renault series."
However, Virgin Racing announced on Friday that he has signed on as a 2011 reserve driver alongside Japanese Sakon Yamamoto.
"Toronto-born Robert will attend each of the remaining grands prix where there is no clash with the Formula Renault 3.5 series, with effect from next weekend's Canadian grand prix", said the team.
"We are delighted to welcome him to Virgin Racing's roster of reserve drivers," said Booth.
It has been reported Wickens is first in line should race driver Jerome d'Ambrosio's sponsors continue to delay their payments.
Q: Congratulations on your appointment with Marussia Virgin Racing! You moved to Europe to compete full-time back in 2008, with a view to graduating to Formula One, what does today’s announcement mean to you?
Robert Wickens (RW): “Well I’m grateful to Marussia Virgin Racing for the opportunity to join them as one of their official reserve drivers. It’s a fantastic privilege to be able to play any role within a Formula One team but for me, it’s another step on the road to hopefully realizing my goal of becoming a Formula One race driver.”
Q: Can you please explain to us what exactly your role as ‘Reserve Driver’ means and just how close it brings you to the Marussia Virgin Racing outfit?
RW: “A team can have a number of reserve drivers, effectively on stand-by to select should they require someone to fill in for one of the regular drivers. Ultimately for me, the opportunity to attend Grand Prix events as part of the team, and be around the team’s drivers, will be a fantastic education.
“You want to soak in as much information as you can, speaking with the likes of the engineers and the drivers. It goes without saying I’m hungry for the opportunity to physically drive a Formula One car but until that time comes, I’ll use this experience to become a valuable member of Marussia Virgin Racing.”
Q: You enjoying backing from Marussia Motors in your 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series campaign, sporting the same team colors on your Carlin entry as the Marussia Virgin Racing cars. How instrumental were they in your appointment?
RW: “I represent Marussia Motors competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with Carlin and since they increased their investment in the Formula One operation I was naturally hoping there might be some way for me to be involved there too. I’m very grateful for the support of Marussia Motors’ leaders Nikolay Fomenko and Andrey Cheglakov as they’re allowing me to do what I love and pushing my career forward.”
Q: How many Formula One races do you now expect to attend this season?
RW: “I’ll be attending the events that don’t clash with my existing race commitments. I raced to a podium finish in FR3.5 in front of the Marussia hierarchy at the Monaco Grand Prix last month, which was gratifying, and I’m looking forward to next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.”
Q: Do you feel this role, combined with your on-going successes in the European open-wheel categories, will further increase your chances of landing a full-time Formula One race seat?
RW: “I’d like to think so. In Formula One it’s all about momentum and you need it on your side, both on and off track! This is a great opportunity for me to forge closer links with a Formula One team and to hopefully become more of a regular face around the paddock.
“I’m happy with how my FR3.5 season’s shaping up but it’s a long season and I know it’ll be a tough fight for the championship despite leading it in the early stages. I moved my race efforts to Europe a few seasons back with a view to reaching Formula One. This is where you need to compete to be noticed by Formula One teams. I feel I’ve continued to take the right steps towards realizing my goal and moving into the Formula One paddock is a great step and it’s down to me to make the most of it.”
Q: You’ll be attending the Canadian Grand Prix, at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, with Marussia Virgin Racing next week. How exciting is it to be attending this event as part of Formula One and as the first Canadian in an official driver role since Jacques Villeneuve?
RW: “It’ll be fun to be back and have an official role in the paddock rather than simply stopping by to say hi to a few people! The Canadian race fans are truly amazing so you can’t but help get a buzz off the atmosphere that they create there. I know I’ll be kept pretty busy in Montreal with the team so it should be a fun weekend. I’ve always enjoyed racing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and I’d love the chance to race it in a Formula One car sometime in the near future and give the Canadian fans another ‘home’ racer to support.”