Just five days away from the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser, Team Lotus has confirmed that Karun Chandhok has been appointed as its official reserve driver for the F1 2011 World Championship campaign 'and beyond'.
Hispania Racing (HRT) refugee Chandhok completes a six-strong driver line-up at the Anglo/Malaysian outfit this season, alongside race pairing Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, third driver Luiz Razia and test-drivers Davide Valsecchi and Ricardo Teixeira.
The popular Indian will participate in a number of grand prix practice sessions including FP1 in Melbourne this weekend, and team principal Tony Fernandes is confident that the 27-year-old's technical input and on-track prowess will provide Team Lotus with more valuable insights into how to optimise the new T128's full potential – as well as acting as an ambassador for the squad.
“This is another great day for Team Lotus,” enthused the flamboyant AirAsia founder. “Karun's appointment to our team gives us not only his immense driving talent and F1 experience – both of which will help us to develop the car even further – but also brings one of the warmest, most professional personalities I have the pleasure of knowing into the Team Lotus family.
“I do not think it is going too far to say that Karun represents the future of motor racing – he is living proof that geography is no boundary to talent and ambition, and that you will succeed if you work hard and keep dreaming. He is fiercely proud of his Indian heritage, but he has a truly global outlook and I am honoured that Team Lotus is now giving one of India's brightest stars the chance to continue to develop his talent. Everyone in the team is excited about working with Karun, and I cannot wait to see him representing the Indian nation in our car.”
“I've been talking to the team for quite a while about a role with them, and I'm delighted we're now able to confirm that I will be driving for Team Lotus in 2011,” added Chandhok. “The details of exactly which sessions I will be in the car for are being worked out now, and after having spent some time with them at the recent pre-season tests, I can see exactly how passionate everyone in Team Lotus is about taking this team back to the top of the F1 grid.
“These are very exciting times for Team Lotus, and it's a real honour to be able to play a part in helping to shape this team's future. I want to thank Tony, Din, Nasa, Riad and Mike for having the faith in me to give me a chance to help the team develop, and I'll do my best to repay that faith wherever I can.”
Originally, it had been rumoured that off the back of an impressive testing performance in Barcelona earlier this month – lapping seventh-quickest out of the eleven drivers present – Valsecchi would be driving in FP1 in both Australia and Malaysia, but Chandhok's signing means the schedule is now uncertain.
“For me, being with Lotus is an incredible opportunity,” the Italian GP2 Series ace had told Autosprint
. “If you set good lap times, adapt to the car quickly and can give good feedback, who knows, perhaps they'll offer you further possibilities. [Robert] Kubica was a third driver (at BMW-Sauber), and he beat the race driver two or three times. That was Jacques Villeneuve, and Kubica ended up replacing him. [Sebastian] Vettel astonished everyone and they put him into the car for Indianapolis, and he immediately finished inside the points.
“I feel I did a good job in testing in Barcelona, and the team said I did very well – I matched the time set by Trulli in the previous test there. They sent me out on the harder compound tyres and with a full tank of fuel to begin with, and then they took the fuel out and bolted on the super-softs. That was quite an eye-opener...”