After four years of GP2, Lucas de Grassi is finally getting a break in Formula 1 with the Virgin Racing team.
AUTOSPORT heard from the Brazilian during the launch of the new outfit.
Q. You are finally an F1 driver...
Lucas di Grassi: Yes, it has been a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work for the past years. And finally to get a race seat this year is just a dream come true. It's amazing. I've been in GP2 for a lot of seasons, having good results and also testing for Renault F1 for two years. And now I think I'm at the best point of my career, as best prepared as I can be, so I think it's a great opportunity for me to start in such a solid team with such a good team-mate in F1.
Q. Did you ever doubt this day would come?
LdG: I think the opportunity slipped a couple of times. I think sometimes for a good reason, sometimes for a bad reason. I don't think doubt is the word. I was always working as hard as I could in every single aspect of my career, to try to get the biggest chance for this day to happen. I always believed, I never really stopped pushing, so it finally arrived.
Now it's just the start of a new challenge for me. So I'm going to be even more motivated, and will work even harder to try to cope with F1. F1 is a different level from GP2, it's a different level from F1 testing, so I have to adapt and prepare myself as best as I can to have a long and successful career in F1, and that's what I'm aiming for.
Q. Do you think Virgin has a chance if Michael Schumacher comes back next year?
LdG: I don't think it has anything to do with Michael coming back or not. There are teams that have been there for 50 years building Formula 1 cars. It's going to be a great challenge to build a car that is very competitive. To build a Formula 1 car is very, very difficult and at the same time it's completely relative to what the others are doing. So it's very difficult to know at this stage how the car is going to behave next year.
So for me the main objective is to... I know the chances of Virgin Racing to succeed are medium, long term, so maybe in three to five years is very high. I think that's the time frame for a new team to start winning races, but we never know. Next year can be a surprise and the best we can do is to prepare ourselves the best way possible.
Q. Richard said he doesn't want to spend too much money? Does that make you a bit nervous?
LdG: Formula 1 is getting to a different stage, where a lot of private teams are coming into F1 and there's also this idea to limit the budget in a couple of years. And also I don't think money and success are completely related. We have seen many teams spending an awful lot of money in F1 and having no results.
And at the same time we have seen teams with less money that had great results last year. And now the regulations are a little bit tighter to make parts a little bit more standard and make the cars a little bit more equal. I think the difference between teams will be smaller between the first and the last place.
Q. What do you think Richards's expectations are for next year?
LdG: I think Richard knows what he's doing, and we know it's a big challenge to build an F1 car from scratch. Richard, myself, Alex, John, Nick... I think Richard's plans are for a medium to long term to have a huge success in F1, but to be realistic and to be optimistic are two different things. I think Richard is very realistic on what we can achieve next year. It's very difficult to know until we put the car on track, but to have a huge success in the first year is going to be very difficult.
Q. What convinced you about Virgin?
LdG: I think first the Virgin Group is a very solid company that's not going to come into the sport to do a bad job. They are entering the sport now to do a good job in the medium, long term and they have a solid background, a solid relationship with John [Booth], with Nick [Wirth]. The team is very, very well structured so that was the main reason - apart from knowing John for a long time, and knowing Nick - that I chose to come to Virgin, and I hope my relationship with them goes as well as it's started.
Q. How do you think you will go against the other new teams next year?
LdG: I think that's our biggest reference for next year. Our reference will be the new teams that are building the car from scratch as well. As I said, to have an exact measure of where we are we have to put the car on track. But I'm very confident that Nick can deliver a very high standard work.
Q. What's your reference for next year?
LdG: I've had quite a few team-mates that had succeeded in F1, and also people I was fighting with. I had Buemi as my team-mate in ART in 2007, I had Glock as I was fighting for the title in 2007, I was fighting with Kubica and Vettel in F3 in 2005, I was fighting with Kobayashi in GP2, with Lewis, with Rosberg in F3. So for many years I have been at the same level that the guys that are in F1 now.
If I had been in F1 maybe four years ago I would not have had the chance to have a long career as I have now, because I'm much more experienced and much more mature than I was three or four years ago. The example is Massa, who is a great talent and he came into F1 very young and he almost lost his seat after a year.
He went back to be a test driver after a year of racing and with more experience he came back to be one of the top drivers today. So my aim is to do step by step and I think I'm starting in a good position to do so.
Q. Have you had to bring backing with you to get this drive?
LdG: No. It was never about backing. I'm trying to bring more companies from Brazil, because as I said the sport is entering a new era. So the marketing side is very important. I have already one company coming with me next year, and we are working very hard to get as many as possible.
Q. So you will be paid a salary?
LdG: Yes, I have been hired by Virgin.
Q. How big a risk is it to build a new car without a wind tunnel?
LdG: I think it's a new technology that is coming into the sport, a car that has been completely designed with CFD. It's hard to me to say anything. For what I've seen the car looks fantastic and I hope it's as fast as it looks, but it's difficult to know until we put in on track.
I believe Nick has done a very good job with the LMP1 he designed. F1 is a different level, but I think with the effort he's putting he will be able to do a good car.