Honda continues to keep its options open with regard to its 2009 Formula One line-up after revealing that it intends to test GP2 frontrunner Lucas di Grassi during this month's Barcelona group session.
The team has not confirmed whether it intends to change its line-up next season, but the rumour mill suggests that F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello could find himself as the odd man out when decision time comes - despite the Brazilian insisting that he is driving as well as ever and has no plans to retire. Honda, meanwhile, now has two young Brazilians on its testing roster for November, having confirmed that it intends to run Bruno Senna at Jerez in the coming weeks, and di Grassi's addition to the list suggests that, should it intend to dispense with Barrichello's expertise, it would look to one of his countrymen to fill the void, particularly with Brazilian oil company Petrobras coming on board for 2009.
di Grassi, meanwhile, will be keen to impress having been overlooked by Renault for next season. The RDD pilot had hoped that his sterling performance in GP2, where he finished third overall - with three race wins - despite missing the first six races would have convinced the regie
to use him as replacement for Nelson Piquet Jr, but Renault confirmed earlier this week that it would field an unchanged line-up in 2009, forcing di Grassi's hand somewhat lest he find himself again restricted to a testing role.
Keen to finally graduate to a race seat in F1, the Brazilian will join Honda at the Circuit de Catalunya for the first test of the winter, where he will run alongside Senna during the 17-19 November session. di Grassi will spend all three days with the team, beginning his 'audition' with a part-day familiarisation programme and culminating in a full day of track work in this year's RA108.
"We are delighted to provide Lucas with a test," team principal Ross Brawn commented, "This is a very well-deserved opportunity for Lucas to prove his potential after such an impressive performance in GP2 this season, and during his testing responsibilities with the ING Renault F1 team. We look forward to seeing him in action and will take a keen interest in how he performs."
di Grassi served as Renault's third driver for the 2008 season, having been a part of the French marque's driver development programme since 2004, but found his seat time extremely limited as Fernando Alonso, Piquet and RDD colleague Romain Grosjean all took turns behind the wheel.
"I am very excited to have the opportunity of testing with the Honda team in Barcelona, and look forward to proving myself to the team, the 24-year old admitted, "I would like to say thank you to the Renault team for all their support and for allowing me this opportunity to help further my career.
"The next two weeks will be a very important stage in my development and I will be spending a lot of time at the Honda factory before the test to speak with the engineers and learn as much as possible in advance of the test."
Italian Luca Filippi and Briton Mike Conway appear to have been overlooked for winter tests with Honda, despite being a part of the team's own driver development initiative. Filippi struggled to make an impact in his second season of GP2 and is in danger of slipping off the radar, while Conway is reported to have turned his attention to America, where Honda powers the entire IndyCar Series field. Veteran Alex Wurz served as chief test and reserve driver after retiring from competition following a year at Williams in 2007.