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Q & A: Di Grassi on his F1 future

After a difficult rookie year with Virgin Racing, Lucas di Grassi is without a seat for the upcoming season.

The Brazilian admits the situation is difficult and he is already thinking of a racing seat for 2012.

AUTOSPORT talked to di Grassi about his plans.

Q. How are things looking for 2011?

Lucas di GrassiLucas di Grassi: The situation with Virgin was very simple. The sponsorship that I had last year didn't work out as I expected, so I was looking for a new one to continue with the team. Even by halfway through last season I knew that it would be very difficult. I was not in a position to fight commercially with the other guys who had a budget to close the deal there as it became very clear by the end of the season that they needed someone to pay for the seat.

I've never paid for any ride in my life - I was with Renault for six years and then Virgin last year and it was impossible to find a solution. That was pretty much my only chance to stay in F1 in a race seat.

Q. So you are now looking for a test/reserve driver role?

LdG: The plan is to stay in F1 this year and I am talking to some teams to try and find the best solution. It's not just for 2011; I need an opportunity to come back into a race seat in 2012, so the best strategy is to talk to the teams that I would have a chance of racing for next year. I don't just want to be in F1 in 2011 and then find myself with the same problem next year.

Q. How important is it to get a role that includes some track time in F1?

LdG: That's very difficult. It's a problem to go for year without driving and it's not very good for the technical aspect of being an F1 driver, so if you can, it is good to be in the position to drive at some point in the year or keep using a simulator. Then that will help me to come back in 2012. The ideal would be to have a third driver role that allows me to stay active so that I have the best chance to perform when I come back.

Q. You have a strong reputation as a development driver built up in your days as Renault tester, so do you feel that you have a lot to offer a team on the technical side?

LdG: Yes. I did very extensive work developing the Virgin simulator from a raw state to a good condition by the end of last year. Also, the experience I have of developing an F1 car from scratch to how it was at the end of last year is valuable. Now I understand much better how a car works, I know 19 of the 20 tracks of the 2011 season and I believe that I could have helpful input for a team.

Q. Five years ago, if you were facing a year out of racing you would probably have had a paid test driver role with lots of track time. Is the current situation where there is so little running frustrating for you?

LdG: Yes, but I can't think about this. Of course, it would be much easier to do tests and Friday driving as it was five years ago, but F1 has adapted itself for the new economic times and all I can do is to plan as best I can my way back to a race seat in 2012. Which team it is with doesn't matter, as long as it gives me the chance to perform and show F1 what I can do. In an F1 career, you need to be lucky and in the right place at the right time at some point, because there are some circumstances you can be in a position where you don't have the chance to perform. With more testing, it would be much easier to show your performance level and skills. But without it, I have to rely on the simulators and other things maybe even other formulas as well to keep active.

Q. Is there any chance of remaining involved with Virgin?

LdG: I won't say no. The problem with Virgin was purely commercial for the race seat and the teams knows that I was a valuable asset in developing the car. But I need to be able to come back in 2012 in a good position. It would be a pleasure to work with Virgin again, but if it's another team, I have no problem with.

Q. So have you given up on racing in F1 at all in 2012?

LdG: You never know because F1 changes very quickly. If the opportunity comes, I will take it. But it's difficult at the moment to come into F1 without backing. I'm working to put myself in the best possible position for next year, but if something comes up this year, then that would be a welcome surprise!

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Di Grassi eyes F1 return in 2012