Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wickens in waiting at Grand Prix event

Toronto racer reserve driver for F1 team

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MONTREAL -- Robert Wickens plans to spend the Canadian Grand Prix listening and learning in the paddock and garage of the Marussia Virgin Racing team, within touching distance of what he really wants -- to drive a car in the race.

"One broken leg away," the Toronto native said Tuesday, before hurriedly adding "I'm kidding."

Wickens said he wishes no harm to befall Virgin drivers Timo Glock and Jerome d'Ambrosio for the Formula One event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But one of his duties in his new job as a reserve driver for the team is to fill if one of the regulars is unable to compete.

Virgin added him to their reserve roster last week, timing the announcement to make a splash ahead of the only stop of the year in his home country. Wickens also drives under Marussia sponsorship in the Formula Renault 3.5 series in Europe.

He has only been in an F1 car a few times for demonstration spins when he was with the Red Bull team a few years ago and has not yet tried Virgin's Cosworth-power car other than on a simulator.

"I'm not planning on driving," he said. "I'm just sticking to my duties with the simulator work I've done for them and I just have to keep going from there.

"I want to drive, but I know my role and I know where I stand, so I just have to sit tight and wait for my time."

The 22-year-old hopes to become the first Canadian in F1 since 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve of Montreal last raced for BMW in 2006.

He is no stranger to the track named after Villneuve's former Ferrari star father Gilles, having posted his first race victory in anything other than a go-kart at the tight road track in the Formula BMW series in 2005.

This weekend, he'll be sitting in on team meetings, listening in on radio communications between the drivers and the garage and soaking up all the F1 knowledge he can.

There are practice runs on Friday, qualifying Saturday and the race in front of a crowd in excess of 100,000 on Sunday.

"I love it here," said Wickens. "Maybe I'm biased, but I swear it's the most exciting race of the year and has been every time."

Virgin, still struggling to get up to pace with the top teams in its second year in F1, is not likely to be a factor in the race, but they see themselves as a developing team that could be competing for wins by 2014.

Wickens hopes to be there with them.

Marc Haynes, director of Marussia's development program, said the team mostly wants Wickens to concentrate on the Formula Renault series this year. Whether he stays with the team depends on his performance, although he's done just fine so far.

After seven FR 3.5 races this season, he is second in series standings, only one point behind Carlin Motorsports teammate Jean-Eric Vergne. He has four top-three finishes, three pole positions, three fastest laps and one race win.

He finished second in the GP3 series last year after finishing second in F2 racing in 2009.

"We don't want him to get too carried away with Formula One, but to focus on his (Renault) World Series," said Haynes. "We are trying to further his education.

"The best thing he can do to further his cause is to win that championship and just keep doing the job he's doing -- keep learning, so at the end of the season he's got all the boxes ticked and he's the man for the job."

He is now part of the same development system that produced former F1 champions Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen and Haynes said he has many of the same attributes.

"He's very good, that's why he's here," Haynes added.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2011 C6

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