Robert Wickens is one step closer to realizing his dream of becoming a Formula One driver.
The Toronto native, who moved to Europe in 2008 to boost his quest to race in F1, was named a reserve driver Friday for the Marussia Virgin Racing team.
He will be in the paddock at the Canadian Grand Prix next week, but is not expected to take part in any practice sessions at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. A reserve driver is on stand-by in case one of the regular drivers cannot race. They often get in some laps in practice sessions on the Friday of race weekends.
Wickens is the first Canadian driver to land a job with an F1 team since 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve of Montreal raced for BMW in 2006.
"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 F1 race driver," Wickens said in a statement.
The 22-year-old will continue to compete in Formula Renault 3.5, an important feeder series that has sent talent like reigning champion Sebastian Vettel to F1.
Drivers Timo Glock and Jerome D'Ambrosio have yet to earn a point this season for Marussia Virgin Racing. The second-year team which hoped to be in the middle of the grid, fired technical director Nick Wirth this week.
The squad's long-term goal is to compete for wins by 2014, when the inaugural Russian Grand Prix is to be held in Sochi.
"The opportunity to attend Grand Prix events as part of the team, and be around the team's drivers, will be a fantastic education," said Wickens. "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."
He replaces Sakon Yamamoto of Japan, whose contract expired after the first three races of the season.
Wickens picked up a sponsorship last winter from Marussia, a Russian sports car manufacturer that has a large stake in Virgin Racing.
He is currently in second place, one point behind Carlin Motorsports teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, in FR 3.5 standings after a second-place finish last week in Monaco.
"I'll be attending (F1) events that don't clash with my existing race commitments," he said. "I raced to a podium finish in front of the Marussia hierarchy at the Monaco Grand Prix last month, which was gratifying, and I'm looking forward to next weekend's Canadian Grand Prix."
Virgin was expected to name Wickens as a reserve driver last month but held off on the announcement. There were reports that D'Ambrosio would be dropped due to sponsorship issues and replaced by Wickens, but the team opted to stick with the Belgian driver.
Wickens finished second in the F2 series in Europe in 2009 and was second in the FR3.5 series last year with Status Grand Prix. He previously raced on the Red Bull junior team, in Formula Atlantic and the A1GP series.
Now he's knocking at the door of an F1 ride.
"In Formula One it's all about momentum and you need it on your side, both on and off track," Wickens said. "This is a great opportunity for me to forge closer links with a Formula One team and to hopefully become more of a regular face around the paddock. I moved my race efforts to Europe a few seasons back with a view to reaching Formula One.
"This is where you need to compete to be noticed by F1 teams. I feel I've continued to take the right steps towards realizing my goal and moving into the F1 paddock is a great step. It's down to me to make the most of it."
For Wickens, there's no better place to start than Montreal.
"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 know I'll be kept pretty busy in Montreal with the team so it should be a fun weekend.
"I've always enjoyed racing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and I'd love the chance to race it in a Formula One car sometime in the near future and give the Canadian fans another 'home' racer to support."