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Robert Wickens
Robert Wickens

Robert Wickens hungrier than ever for his F1 chance Add to ...

He's accustomed to having things happening fast, but even Robert Wickens was amazed at how short his first weekend as an official Formula One reserve driver seemed.

It began a week before the Canadian Grand Prix when the 22-year-old from Guelph, Ont., was named a reserve driver with the Marussia Virgin team, which meant his first official F1 weekend would be at home in Montreal.

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From there, things were pretty much a blur.

"Everything just went by so quickly. I was just kind of going with it and I didn't really realize until I was basically at the airport Sunday [after the race]flying back to Toronto when I thought to myself: 'What the hell just happened?'" he said.

"It was just go, go, go and I didn't really have much time for anything. Once I looked back after the weekend, it was pretty awesome. I can see myself having a future in F1 and I am hungrier than ever."

And when he needed a bit of grounding as he walked a few feet off the ground, Wickens got it from a familiar source: His family.

Wickens' mom Lise, dad Tim and brother Trevor have been there every step of the way as the young driver struggled to find the money he needed to hone his considerable talents. And coming from a family of modest means, the odds certainly were against his making it all the way to the top.

"Anytime I talked to my family over the weekend, they made me realize how big this deal actually was," he said. "This is a fantastic time."

Ironically, only weeks after being named a Formula One reserve driver for the Marussia Virgin outfit, Wickens will get a shot at driving another team's grand prix car on the Hungaroring track near Budapest, Hungary next weekend as reward for his performance in his 2011 Formula Renault season.

"The driver who is leading the championship at the halfway point gets to do a demonstration run at the following race weekend, so I will be driving the Lotus Renault R30 in Budapest in a week," said Wickens, who drivers for the Carlin team in Formula Renault.

"I'll have a 30-minute free practice on Friday to get familiar with the car and then on Saturday I will be doing the demonstration runs just before my first [Formula Renault Series]race. Obviously, it's going to be great to give a modern F1 car a go around the track but at the end of the day, the Formula Renault weekend is my focus."

And for those who worried the distraction of being in the F1 paddock could see him lose sight of the job at hand in Formula Renault were soundly proven wrong as the young Canadian had an almost perfect weekend just days after the Canadian Grand Prix.

After two poles, a win, and a second place finish in the two rounds at the Nurburgring last weekend, he left the German track with a 30-point lead over the pair of drivers tied for second. With drivers getting 25 points for a win and eight races left to run, Wickens isn't about to relax.

"My Formula Renault 3.5 year has just been amazing really - the results have been coming, the team is fantastic, and everything is just really clicking right now," he said.

"But the championship is long from over. I have a 30-point lead, but if I don't score in the next one and the other guy wins, it's down to five so I can't really rest."

The field in the Formula Renault Series this season is remarkably strong with several champions from lower series and a handful of drivers with Formula One experience in tests or as reserve drivers.

Toro Rosso reserve driver and Red Bull top prospect Daniel Ricciardo was pegged as the driver to beat in 2011 after he impressed in the end-of-season F1 test last year in Abu Dhabi. While the Australian didn't score any points in the first race weekend in Spain due to his F1 role at the Chinese Grand Prix, any advantage Wickens gained was erased when he had a weekend to forget in Monza, Italy, last month where failed to finish both races due to mechanical troubles and a crash caused by another driver's brain cramp. Nevertheless, the Canadian has still outscored the highly rated Ricciardo by 43 points in the seven races they've both completed.

In nine starts, Wickens has two wins, four second place finishes, five poles and three fastest laps. His worst result in the seven races he's finished was a fifth.

That performance played a huge role in getting Wickens on the Marussia Virgin driver roster, where he may not get a shot at driving the car until his end-of-season F1 rookie test.

Right now, his main job on race F1 weekends is gathering as much information as he can about the team and its operation by attending all the technical briefings and talking to the drivers. It's all designed to ensure he will be ready when the call finally comes.

"You have to learn the ropes before you jump in," he said.

"Definitely times are a bit tougher now for a rookie to make their debut but it's the same for everyone. I think [2010 world champion Sebastian]Vettel was the last to come through out of the Friday test drivers and I think that was probably the best idea. It should come back in my opinion."

Cost cutting measures in 2009 put an end to in-season testing, which means there are no opportunities for teams to run young drivers other than the rookie test at the end of the year. Before that happened, teams were allowed to put rookies in their cars during Friday practice sessions at grand prix to help young drivers get up to speed.

But just being in F1 is something Wickens could not have imagined in 2008 when Red Bull suddenly dropped him from their driver program, leaving the Canadian scrambling to keep his career on track. While things are better three years later, Wickens still works as a driver coach during the week to help pay his expenses.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't upset after being released from Red Bull but it didn't take me long to realize that it opened up opportunities," he said.

"A lot of people helped me in my career right from karting all the way up. First and foremost my family has been absolutely incredible to get me where I am."

Robert Wickens in Monaco in May, 2011 for the Formula Renault 3.5 Series

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