HRT has announced that Ma Qing Hua will make his official F1 debut at the Italian Grand Prix, replacing Narain Karthikeyan in the first free practice session of the weekend at Monza on Friday.
The 24-year old Chinese driver, who first stepped into an F1 car during the Silverstone young driver test in July, will take the wheel of the #23 F112-03 alongside Pedro de la Rosa. Since joining the team, and following the development programme that HRT has specifically prepared for him, Hua has been preparing himself throughout the past few months by testing various lower category cars, working on the team's simulator and going through a rigorous physical training regime. After the young driver test at Silverstone, where he completed 483km and impressed the team, he was granted an F1 superlicence by the FIA, prompting HRT to consider him ready to take the next step and run in an official session at a grand prix.
Hua will therefore make history once again by becoming the first Chinese driver to drive at an F1 event, and the Shanghai-born driver admits that he is excited by the chance to join Friday's 90-minute morning session.
"This is a very important step towards my dream of becoming an F1 driver," he explained, "It will be my second time in the car, after the young driver test in Silverstone, and I'm very excited about driving at a circuit like Monza. The objective of this session is to continue advancing with my programme, rack up more miles and experience at the wheel of an F1 car and help the team with whatever they need.
"I'm excited, but also calm about it because I've been training hard in the past months to be prepared when the opportunity presented itself. I've also worked on the simulator to get to know the circuits a bit better and how an F1 car reacts. In the last months, I've been with the team at grands prix, so I've also learned a lot from the engineers and my team-mates, who have shared information and their experience, which will be very useful.
"It will be the first time that a Chinese driver takes part in a grand prix and that, for Chinese motorsport, is another huge stride and a fantastic opportunity. I want to thank all the people who have supported and helped me to get here - from my parents and China Sport Management to the Chinese Motorsport Federation, the companies that have supported and support me and, of course, HRT for giving me this opportunity. I won't let them down.”
Despite his comparative lack of F1 experience, team principal Luis Pérez-Sala does not feel that Hua will be out of his depth at Monza.
"Personally, it fills me with satisfaction to be able to give Ma the opportunity to make his debut at a grand prix, and to do it in FP1 at a classic circuit like Monza makes it even more special," the Spaniard commented, "Since we started working with him in March, everything has been very quick, but he's responded and overcome every phase accordingly. From tests with World Series or GP2 cars, passing through sessions on the simulator, to the F1 tests in Silverstone, where he completed 500 km with no problems, he's shown to us that he's on a good level and has transmitted the necessary confidence to take the next step, which is to make his debut at a free practice session of a grand prix.
"He's fulfilled our expectations without making any mistakes and has proven himself as a quick and safe driver with a great capability to adapt, besides also possessing a very positive and professional attitude. Without a doubt, this is a very important step which comes with great responsibility, but we consider that he's prepared to take it on.”