Wickens waits in the wings for big chance

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THE arrival of Robert Wickens as a reserve driver has cast more doubts over Jerome d’Ambrosio’s long-term future at Marussia Virgin Racing.

Virgin opted to add Wickens to their reserve driver ranks on Friday, with the young Canadian having produced a series of strong performances in the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series. Wickens, who will be Virgin’s official reserve along with Sakon Yamamoto, will attend each of the remaining F1 races where there is no clash with his Formula Renault duties, starting from the grand prix in Canada on June 12.

Wickens is thought to be first in line for a race seat at Virgin should race driver d’Ambrosio’s sponsors continue to delay their payments.

One of the major reasons why Virgin decided to replace Lucas di Grassi with d’Ambrosio six months ago was because d’Ambrosio brought heavy financial clout to the table. However, the Belgian’s backers are said to be behind schedule with their payments.

If Virgin are to climb away from the back of the grid, the team requires major funding from its drivers so could deem Wickens as a safer financial bet. Team principal John Booth has told The Star Virgin will assess d’Ambrosio’s situation at the end of the season.

The pressure is on d’Ambrosio to keep turning in consistent displays on track, with Wickens, 22, second in the Renault series with four podiums, including one, and three poles to his credit. Wickens, who finished up runner-up in the GP3 Series, said: “It’s an exciting time for me. The support of the Marussia Virgin Racing team has been fantastic, and I am dedicated to repaying that faith in me by contributing everything I can to assist the team’s objectives.”

Booth believes Wickens has a bright future in racing. “Robert is a very impressive young driver; he will join us trackside at Grands Prix for as many races as his schedule will allow and in turn he will have the benefit of working closely with our race drivers and engineers.”