After the long wait, Team Lotus F1 (or 1Malaysia F1 Team, as many Malaysians know it as) has finally announced its official driver lineup: Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will race for the Malaysian backed team in the 2010 Formula 1 season!
Both drivers were in search of a race seat for 2010. Trulli, 35, is a seasoned veteran left without a drive after Toyota pulled out of the sport, while 28-year old Kovalainen was Lewis Hamilton’s teammate at McLaren, recently dropped and replaced by World Champion Jenson Button. Our own Fairuz Fauzy will be the team’s third and reserve driver, as suggested by team technical chief Mike Gascoyne earlier. Trulli should have a good working relationship with Gascoyne, who was Technical Director at Toyota.
In Trulli and Kovalainen, Lotus F1 has two highly experienced drivers that are no strangers to the podium, and we wish the team all the best for its maiden season.
UPDATE: Quotes from the drivers and Team Principal after the jump!
What were the reasons behind your decision to join Lotus F1 Racing?
“I am really pleased to be joining Lotus F1 Racing. It was quite a difficult situation at the start of November with my former team withdrawing from Formula 1, but I was convinced I would stay in Formula 1. I was in contact with Mike (Gascoyne, Chief Technical Officer) about the possibility of joining the new Lotus team and it became quickly clear that it would be a very good opportunity for me. I have been in Formula 1 for many years but there is something extremely motivating about helping to build a team from the ground level up. There is a lot of ambition from Tony (Fernandes, Team Principal), Mike and in fact the whole of Malaysia as a nation, and that level of enthusiasm is infectious for a driver. I am really looking forward to the challenge.”
You are one of the longest-serving drivers in Formula 1 – how important will your experience be for the team?
“I have driven for quite a few teams in my career, both manufacturer and independent teams, so I have a wide range of experience. I hope that this experience will be a positive asset for Lotus as we begin this new challenge together. We should not underestimate the task in hand. Formula 1 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. Everyone will be fighting hard for results, but we still have all our foundations to set, so we have a lot to do.”
Do you expect the team to be immediately competitive?
“We have to set realistic targets for the first year. We are one of the new teams, so we have to prove ourselves and to gain respect in the paddock. We have to establish ourselves as the best of the new teams and see what gap we have between us and the rest. Only then will we really understand what gains we need to make during the season. The points system has changed to reward the top ten drivers, so I would like to see us making progress towards the top ten by Abu Dhabi.”
What do you think of the team’s approach to Formula 1 based on your previous experiences?
“Having spoken to Tony and to Mike, as well as being in Malaysia this week, I can see a very sensible attitude and professional approach to racing. Of course everyone supporting the team wants results but everybody knows that will take time. We certainly have the capabilities and the tools to do the job. I know Mike very well from our time at other teams and I have a lot of faith in his technical operation.”
What do you think of having Heikki as a team-mate?
“It’s great to have a younger driver like Heikki on board. He has been in Formula 1 for a few years now, so he has matured into a competitive and well-rounded race driver. His experiences at other teams will certainly help Lotus F1 Racing as a whole and I am looking forward to working alongside him. He is bringing a different character and driving style to the team which I think will benefit all of us during 2010.”
You are entering your fourth season as a Formula 1 race driver by joining a brand new team in Lotus F1 Racing – what factors were behind your decision to join the team?
For me there were a couple of major factors – Tony and Mike being the two leading figures in the project, and the backing behind the team were both very important, and having spoken to both of them I became aware that the whole operation has a lot of potential, and a very good chance of being a successful team in the future. I saw Lotus F1 Racing as the best choice for me to progress my career, after considering several other options that were available to me.
What have you seen of the team so far?
I have visited the base of the team, as well as meeting Tony and Mike, and I can see that everyone involved is very motivated, excited and happy to be pushing this program forwards. The team has ambitious plans for the future and everyone will see Lotus F1 Racing in Bahrain GP as a professional, competitive yet very humble group of intelligent individuals.
What do you think of your new team-mate Jarno?
I have known Jarno for many years now and I think together we can push the team forwards very quickly, and develop our car and the team in a professional way.
Do you have any specific targets for your first season with the team?
I always race to win and I will do everything as if I was preparing to put the car on pole, but of course we have to be realistic and keep the focus on developing the team to a state where we can operate like any other current top F1 team. It will not be easy and we will have tough times at the beginning, there’s no question about it, but as long as we keep improving all the way through the year and have the earned respect of the other top teams on the grid, then we can be pleased about the first year.
Does the Lotus name add any pressure on you or the team?
Well maybe at the beginning we will get away with some difficulties, but of course Lotus has been a winning team in the past and, like I said earlier, the team has ambitious plans to become successful, so after a little while we need to be making progress to keep the Lotus name at its current high status.
Tony Fernandes – Team Principal
There has been a lot of speculation recently about the driver line-up. How did you reach your decision?
“Firstly, I would like to say this is an historic day for all us at Lotus F1 Racing as we announce our first driver line-up. We have three drivers who I believe complement each other excellently and who I think represent what Lotus F1 Racing and 1Malaysia is all about. That is not to say it was a straight-forward decision because we spoke with other drivers who I rate very highly, but ultimately we have opted for a careful mix of experience, youth and ambition. In Jarno we have the F1 veteran who proved in 2009 that he is as quick and determined as ever. In Heikki we have a continuing rising star who is still hungry to prove himself, and in Fairuz we have a Malaysian national driver who is eager to progress up the F1 ladder to fulfill the hopes of a nation. It’s the full package if you ask me.”
What do you expect from the drivers in 2010?
“It is more a question of what we all expect from each other rather than just from the drivers. 2010 will be the first season for Lotus F1 Racing and we have a lot to achieve in a short space of time. As with any new venture, it is a case of ‘all hands on deck’. Everybody has a vital role to play but it is about bringing a new team together and gelling. The drivers each bring different experience to the team and I think the combination of their skills will help us quickly establish ourselves as the ones to watch in 2010 and beyond.”
Did you ever think you would see two race winning drivers in the team’s first season?
“I am still pinching myself. We have not even finished our first race car, so to attract two race winning drivers to the team is a huge achievement and honour. I think it is a testament to our ambition and our long-term vision that we have such talent on our books in year one. It is further proof that we are serious about what we do and I am sure the other new teams are looking at us with some envy right now.”