KUALA LUMPUR: Jarno Trulli of Italy and Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen were unveiled yesterday as drivers for the new Malaysian-backed Lotus team in their debut 2010 Formula One season.
Team principal Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, an aviation mogul who founded budget carrier AirAsia, said the third driver would be Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy, who is shifting from A1 Grand Prix.
“The appointment of Jarno, Heikki and Fairuz as our race drivers is a testament to the quality of our team, to our ambition and drive, and above all to our long-term vision of success in Formula One,” Fernandes said.
“I certainly think we have the strongest drivers. I’m quietly optimistic,” he said of the team’s prospects for victory.
“We now have an opportunity to win. The top five, top 10 … it is no longer a dream, it’s a reality,” he told a press conference.
The Lotus team beat off competition from BMW Sauber to be named in September as the 13th team to compete in next year’s Formula One World Championship.
The new outfit is backed by a publicprivate partnership involving a string of top Malaysian entrepreneurs, as well as national automaker Proton.
Trulli, a veteran driver who was with Toyota in the 2009 season, said he hoped his long experience with multiple teams would be a boost for the fledgling outfit.
“We should not underestimate the task at hand. Formula One in 2010 is an exciting prospect with brand new teams, established manufacturers fighting back and of course other young teams looking to repeat their 2009 success,” he said.
Kovalainen drove for McLaren Mercedes alongside Briton Lewis Hamilton in 2009, but his contract was not renewed.
“I believe that appointing two drivers with the experience Jarno and I have shows how determined the team is to go racing in a truly competitive way, and our pairing sends out a very strong message to our competitors,” the Finn said.
Malaysian officials said Lotus were making good progress in getting their car ready for the 2010 season.
“Mid-January we are getting the build of the car ready and by mid-February the vehicle will be tested in the UK and will then be ready for shipping to Bahrain,” said Lotus F1 Racing CEO Riad Asmat.
“We have the first race in March 2010 in Bahrain, the second in Australia and the third in Malaysia.” — AFP