F1 2010 newcomer Lotus has unveiled the two drivers who will lead the team during its maiden campaign of top flight competition next year – and whilst one was perhaps expected, the other is more of a surprise.
It had been rumoured for weeks that Toyota F1 refugee and former Monaco Grand Prix-winner Jarno Trulli was in pole position to secure one of the two available berths at the Norfolk-based, Malaysian-backed outfit – with the 35-year-old having established a strong working relationship with chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne in past seasons, and with team founder and principal Tony Fernandes recently admitting that he 'likes Italian drivers' – and such speculation has indeed proven to be true.
However, the identity of the Pescara native's team-mate was somewhat less anticipated. Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, late-season sensation Kamui Kobayashi and home hope Fairuz Fauzy had all been linked to the second cockpit, but in the end Lotus has opted for McLaren-Mercedes reject Heikki Kovalainen, the Finn having been manoeuvred out of Woking after two under-par seasons to make way for incoming reigning world champion Jenson Button.
Fauzy will fulfil the role of third and reserve driver, with Malaysian Sports Minister Shabery Cheek expressing his optimism at the driver announcement in the capital of Kuala Lumpur that Lotus can exceed expectations in 2010.
"I am thrilled that we have been able to sign Jarno, Heikki and Fairuz to drive for Lotus F1 Racing in our debut season," team boss Tony Fernandes said. "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 1.
"Jarno and Heiki are winners and have proven track records in Formula 1, and will be a big asset to us as we look to develop the team and the car throughout 2010. Jarno and Heikki are two extremely versatile drivers who have proven themselves more than capable of achieving solid results no matter how tough the conditions.
"Having Fairuz on board is also great news. He is undoubtedly the best Malaysian senior driver at the moment and it is a pleasure to welcome him into Malaysia's Formula 1 team. We only secured our 2010 entry from the FIA in September and already we have our first car in production and have signed two Formula 1 race winners to drive for us, as well as a home-grown Malaysian driver. Not bad for three months' hard work!
"There is more to come from us and we head into the holiday period buoyed by what we have accomplished already but inspired to push the boundaries yet further."
Lotus will be one of four new entries on the starting grid next year, alongside Virgin Racing (formerly Manor Grand Prix), USF1 and Campos Meta 1.