GP2 race-winner Jerome d'Ambrosio made his Formula 1 debut as third driver with Virgin Racing in Singapore, completing 16 laps. His best time was just 0.241sec off experienced teammate Timo Glock on the first of four free practice outings as an evaluation for a potential race seat with the team in 2011.
AUTOSPORT caught up with the 24-year-old at the end of his first day.
Q. So how was your first day as a Formula 1 driver?
Jerome D'Ambrosio: It was great. It was not the easiest of conditions to start off in but it's something special to be out there in an official F1 session with all of the other drivers. I really enjoyed it and took it step by step. I didn't want to get caught up in the enthusiasm of driving on an F1 weekend for the first time so I just took it steadily at the start and in the end I was quite confident with the car and the track. The only negative point was that the track time was too short!
Q. How easy was it to explore the limits of the car given that the session was held in damp conditions?
JDA: It wasn't at all easy in the mixed conditions, which made my life a bit harder. But it was the same for everybody out there. An F1 car is very efficient and I really enjoyed driving it because it was really good and stable.
Q. Was the fading light a problem?
JDA: No. You don't notice the difference because the lights from the circuit are so strong.
Q. Is it a special feeling to be out there on track with the big names like Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton?
JDA: Yes, it is. But, in the end, once you are in the cockpit you don't really look at the other cars! Of course, if you see a Ferrari or a McLaren coming you move out the way but in the end you just have to do the job. It is special because to be part of F1 for the first time is great, but once you are driving you just have to concentrate on doing your job and making sure that you do not get in the way of the big guys.
Q. How did you get on with the team?
JDA: Really good. The team helped me a lot with this and have been very helpful in the preparation. I spent some time yesterday with the mechanics, as of course it's not easy for them working with me and then switching back to Lucas di Grassi for the second session. They have been very good to me and have made my life easier.
Q. This is an evaluation for a race seat in 2011, so are you happy with your first day's work for Virgin?
JDA: Yes. I'm going to take things session by session without looking too much at the times. I'm happy with today. It was important to stay on the track and to be reasonably quick in the end, and that's what I did.
Q. Given the circumstances of being thrown into a car that you didn't know on a track that you didn't know, were you at all nervous beforehand?
JDA: The thing is, you don't know what to expect because I've never been out in a proper F1 car or in a Virgin. I'd never driven the track, I'd never driven in a night event, it's a street circuit and bumpy with the wet conditions so I just built up through the sessions.
Q. You are the first Belgian to drive on an F1 weekend since Bas Leinders was third driver for Minardi in 2004 and it has been 16 years since the last time a Belgian started a grand prix – does that mean much to you?
JDA: You can see that my helmet is in the colors of Belgium so it is something special for me. I really hope that I can get a race drive for next year but first I have to focus on what I am doing now. But for Belgium, it would be something amazing.