Some have questioned the wisdom of Sauber recruiting a driver who has not raced for three years to partner Kamui Kobayashi in its second cockpit in F1 2010, but in a glowing farewell tribute, McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh asserts that the former BMW operation could scarcely have got a better man for the job than Pedro de la Rosa.
The Spaniard pipped former Sauber stars Nick Heidfeld and Giancarlo Fisichella, as well as the Hinwil-based outfit's erstwhile test driver Christian Klien and highly-rated GP2 Series race-winner Vitaly Petrov to secure the seat [see separate story – click here
], and in so doing kick-start an F1 career that looked to have reached the end of the road at the close of the 2006 campaign.
Having not competed full-time at the highest level since 2002, de la Rosa has acted as something of a 'super-sub' in recent years, deputising for Juan-Pablo Montoya at McLaren in the 2005 Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir – setting his one and only fastest lap in the top flight into the bargain – and then stepping into the breach again over the second half of 2006, after the Colombian prematurely parted company with his employers.
Second place to 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button in the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix was the indisputable highlight, but Whitmarsh also points to the 38-year-old's expert testing and development skills as having played a key role in McLaren's triumphs over the last seven years. Those same attributes, he opines, will be a vital factor in helping to drive Sauber forward in 2010.
“Pedro has never made any secret of his continued ambition to race in Formula 1,” the Englishman acknowledged, “so we were never going to stand in his way should an attractive opportunity come his way. On the contrary, we wish him well.
“He's been a fantastic team player for the past seven years, has contributed a huge amount to our successes in that time and will remembered by all at McLaren-Mercedes as not only an esteemed colleague but also as a good friend.”