Trulli and Kovalainen to race at Lotus
Lotus has confirmed Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen as its race drivers for next year.
The new-for-2010 team, which is backed by the Malaysian government, revealed the news in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Monday. The country's prime minister made the announcement and also named Malaysian Fairuz Fauzy as the team's third driver.
Ex-Toyota driver Trulli had long been linked with Lotus, having worked with its technical director Mike Gascoyne at Jordan, Renault and Toyota. He said he was pleased to join a brand new team.
"It was quite a difficult situation at the start of November with my former team withdrawing from Formula One, but I was convinced I would stay in the sport," said Trulli. "I was in contact with Gascoyne 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 One for many years but there is something extremely motivating about helping to build a team from the ground level up."
As one of the new teams alongside Campos, Manor and US F1, Trulli admitted Lotus would not be competitive right from the start but said he expected to be scoring points by the end of the season.
"We have to set realistic targets for the first year," he said. "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."
Kovalainen was also realistic about the team's chances in its debut year, but having been replaced at McLaren by Jenson Button, he felt Lotus was his best offer for 2010.
"For me there were a couple of major factors [behind moving to Lotus]," he said. "Tony Fernandes [team principal] and Mike Gascoyne being the two leading figures in the project and the backing behind the team were both very important. 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 as the best choice for me to progress my career, after considering several other options that were available to me."
Kovalainen added: "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 earned the respect of the other top teams on the grid, then we can be pleased about the first year."
Team boss Fernandes said he had secured a perfect blend of experience, youth and ambition to take the historic Lotus name back into F1 after a 16-year absence.
"I am still pinching myself," he said. "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."