F1 2011 Grid Takes Shape As D'Ambrosio Signs for Virgin Racing

Conor SwainCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2010

D'Ambrosio competed in Friday Practice for Virgin towards the end of the season
D'Ambrosio competed in Friday Practice for Virgin towards the end of the seasonClive Mason/Getty Images

Virgin Racing announced today that Jerome D'Ambrosio would step up from GP2 to partner Timo Glock for 2011. The move means there are now only seven free spots left within the remaining teams, and leaves other drivers fighting to secure a spot on the grid in 2011.

D'Ambrosio becomes the first Belgian to compete in a Formula One race since Phillipe Adams finished last in the 1994 Portuguese Grand Prix, driving for Lotus. He comes into Formula One with a modest record in the junior formula.

The highlight of his career is winning the Formula Master title in 2007, and has since raced for the DAMS team in GP2. In the three seasons he raced, he only won once, in the Monaco Sprint Race in 2010, and has finished no higher than ninth in the standings (although he did finish runner-up to Kamui Kobayashi in the 2008/9 Asia Series).

Towards the end of last season, he competed in the first Friday Practice sessions for Virgin, comparing well to the race drivers. Since the end of the season, he's been one of the favourites to land the second seat alongside Glock for 2011, and sure enough has been confirmed for 2011.

The news will come as a kick in the teeth to Lucas di Grassi, who now finds himself without a drive after driving a solid season in 2010. With his name not being mentioned with regards to any of the remaining drives, he seems consigned to becoming a test/reserve driver for another team, a role which he has built up a pretty handy reputation for throughout his career.

Another driver who might be cursing his luck is fellow South American Esteban Guerrieri. The Argentine Formula Renault 3.5 driver finished third this season despite spending two rounds on the sidelines due to sponsorship issues, and was another driver rumoured to be in contention for the seat now occupied by D'Ambrosio, provided he brought $8 million of sponsorship.

Once again, it seems to be the case of a talented driver unable to move up the ladder because of money—a cruel blow for Guerrieri, who will now undoubtedly seek opportunities in GP2.

As for the rest of the grid, only Renault, Force India, Toro Rosso and Hispania now have vacant seats.

Renault look set to retain Vitaly Petrov for a second season, despite an erratic rookie season which was saved by an impressive drive in the season finale in Abu Dhabi, where he held off Fernando Alonso for a majority of the race. Petrov has called a press conference for this week, where it is expected he will confirm his place alongside Robert Kubica. Ex-Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg and Force India's Adrian Sutil have also been rumoured for the seat.

Hulkenberg and Sutil are also part of a group of drivers vying for Force India seats. Neither of Force India's current drivers, Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi, have been confirmed for 2011.

Liuzzi's position seems far more precarious after his poor 2010 season, although he's convinced his seat is safe. As mentioned earlier, Nico Hulkenberg is in contention for a seat, as is Scottish driver Paul di Resta, who won the DTM title this year and also drove for the Force India team in Friday Practice sessions over the course of the season.

Despite announcing it's driver line-up soon after the 2010 season finale, Toro Rosso's drivers have been listed as unconfirmed in the most recent Entry List released by the FIA. Both Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari had secured contracts for 2011, but the rumours are that neither are confirmed to complete the season.

Red Bull junior driver Daniel Ricciardo is confirmed as a reserve driver, but has been linked with replacing either of the two current drivers at some point over 2011, depending on race performances. It would appear to be Buemi's seat that's in more jeopardy, as Alguersuari seems to be on the up after a very respectable 2010 season.

Finally, Hispania also have no drivers confirmed for 2011. Once again, it seems to be a case of who can bring the most money to the team, and as of yet no drivers have been mentioned.