Canadian Wickens gets taste of F-1

Toronto native Robert Wickens has been named reserve driver for the Formula One Marussia Virgin...

Toronto native Robert Wickens has been named reserve driver for the Formula One Marussia Virgin Racing team. (QMI Agency)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:37 PM ET

Robert Wickens has been named reserve driver for the Formula One Marussia Virgin Racing team, the first Canadian to be hired in the world championship since Jacques Villeneuve back in 1996.

The 22-year-old Wickens won't be getting a starting job just yet, but this moves the Toronto driver into a position to take over behind the wheel should either of Virgin's two regular drivers -- Timo Glock or Jerome D'Ambrosio -- falter.

Wickens will be with the team when it unloads for the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve next week.

"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 an F-1 race driver," Wickens said in a team statement.

What essentially Wickens will do as a reserve driver is take part in all of the practice and race preparation, offering his input to both of the regular drivers and team engineers.

He will also have to be ready at a moment's notice to take over driving duties should the need arise.

There is also a possibility Wickens could drive one of the Virgin cars in Friday practice sessions.

"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," Wickens said. "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."

Wickens got the chance because he has had a stellar season in the Renault 3.5 Series with the Carlin team that is backed by Marussia Motors, a Russian automotive company that has invested in the Virgin squad.

Starting in Canada, Wickens will be at most of the remaining F-1 races, unless they conflict with the FR 3.5 series where he is contending for a championship.

"I raced to a podium finish in FR3.5 in front of the Marussia hierarchy at the Monaco Grand Prix last week, which was gratifying, and I'm looking forward to next weekend's Canadian Grand Prix," he said.

Wickens has been waiting since he moved to Europe in 2008 to pursue his racing dream of joining an F-1 team.

"In F-1 it's all about momentum and you need it on your side, both on and off track," he said. "I moved my race efforts to Europe a few seasons back with a view to reaching F-1. "This is where you need to compete to be noticed.

"It's down to me to make the most of it."

And he is excited to get that career started on in home turf.

"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," he said. "I've always enjoyed racing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and I'd love the chance to race it in an F-1 car sometime in the near future and give the Canadian fans another 'home' racer to support."

Finish lines

In other F-1 news, the FIA ruled Friday that the Bahrain Grand Prix -- cancelled earlier this season because of political unrest in the desert kingdom -- will be run on Oct. 30. That will push the F-1 season to Dec. 11, making it the longest race calendar since 1963. ... The IZOD IndyCar Series announced Friday that damage to Japan's Twin Ring Motegi oval as a result of the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami has forced it to move its Sept. 18 race there this season to the 2.98-mile road course at the same facility.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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