Ma Qing Hua, the first Chinese driver to ever participate in a F1 Grand Prix weekend when he turned out for HRT in practice during the 2012 season, has been handed an opportunity to compete full time in the GP2 Series in 2013 by Caterham Racing.
"It is very exciting for me to be given the opportunity to race in GP2 with Caterham Racing," said Ma. "I am looking forward to the whole season."
Ma has also been appointed as one of Caterham's F1 reserve driver alongside American driver Alexander Rossi. (See separate story
.) Rossi may yet be appointed to the GP2 team alongside Ma, but the team have not made any official announcements about who will take their remaining GP2 race seat.
Ma made his début in a GP2 car this week in the first GP2 pre-season test session at the Circuit de Jerez in Spain, and clearly did enough to impress the team over the three days of working together.
"He performed well in the recent Jerez test and showed that he is very willing to learn," said Caterham's chief engineer Humphrey Corbett. "He provided detailed feedback and was extremely receptive to our engineering input. He was quick to put into practice our recommendations and adapt his driving style."
Corbett shrugged aside any concerns that Ma's relative lack of GP2 experience might be a problem, given that there is only one more track opportunity for him - the second three day test next week at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona - before the start of the 2013 season in Malaysia in a little over three weeks time.
"Ma Qing Hua will be a great addition to Caterham Racing," insisted Corbett. "It will be a pleasure to work with Ma this season and he shows great promise.
"In Caterham Racing he has an experienced team around him and he will have excellent support to guide him through the learning process," he continued. "Although realistic about the challenges ahead, he is striving to be highly competitive."
Caterham Racing team manager Phill Spencer was in full agreement: "Everyone who has worked with Ma comments on his commitment and ability to learn quickly and we have found this to be the case in Jerez.
"We look forward to guiding him through his rookie season," continued Spencer, who said he was delighted to have Ma join the team for 2013. "A season in GP2 will stand Ma in good stead and hopefully secure him a full time F1 seat in the future."
Ma participated in his first F1 free practice session last year at Monza and went on to also take part in sessions at Singapore, Abu Dhabi and the US amid speculation that he was being lined up for a full time drive in F1 in 2013 with HRT. However, the team's closure put paid to that plan and left Ma seeking alternatives - with the feeder series near the top of the list.
“It is so great to be part of the Caterham family and I would like to thank everyone involved for giving me this chance," said the 25-year-old from Shanghai. “I will try my best to learn as quickly as possible and I hope to be able to help the team gain some good data in Barcelona next week.
"This year will be a big challenge for me, as the drivers in the Championship are the best from around the world and it is very competitive," he added. “At the start of the season I will be learning rather than gaining results instantly, but I felt good in the car during the test in Jerez and I look forward to driving again in Barcelona next week."
And he'll certainly have to pick it up quickly if he's to be ready for the first race of the season at Sepang International Circuit on March 23.See full Tuesday test times
.See full Wednesday test times
.See full Thursday test times