Trulli, Kovalainen to race for Lotus

Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will race for Lotus when the Malaysian-backed Formula One team returns to the starting grid next season.

Malaysian Sports Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek told a news conference on Monday that Trulli and Kovalainen, who was replaced by F1 champion Jenson Button at McLaren, would drive for the team next season.

Both have signed three-year contracts, said Lotus boss Tony Fernandes, the airline mogul backing the team. He declined to provide financial details.

”I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I have been in Formula One for many years but there’s something extremely motivating about helping to build the team from the ground level up,” Trulli said in a statement released at the news conference.

Kovalainen said he signed up because he believes Lotus ”has a lot of potential and a very good chance of being a successful team in the future.”

Trulli, 35, was left without a team following Toyota’s exit from F1 last month to cut costs and focus on its core business.

The signing was ”another milestone” for Lotus, which will be one of five new teams next season, Ahmad Shabery said. Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy will be the reserve driver.

”The team has ”made good progress in building and testing the car successfully,” the minister said, adding it is ”on track to make an impact in the next season.”

Lotus last raced in 1994. The other five new teams for 2010 are USF1, Campos, Sauber and Manor, which will compete as Virgin Racing.

Kovalainen, 28, warned that Lotus’ return to F1 ”will not be easy and we will have tough times at the beginning.”

”We have to be realistic and keep the focus on developing the team to a state where we can operate like any other current top F1 team,” the Finn said in his statement.

Trulli, a former Jordan and Renault driver, has competed in 216 races since his debut for Minardi in 1997. The Italian’s lone victory came at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2004.

Trulli finished on the podium three times last season, scoring 32,5 points to finish eighth in the drivers’ championship. He spent just over four seasons with Toyota.

Kovalainen began his F1 career in 2007 with Renault before switching to McLaren in 2008. His only win came at the 2008 Hungarian GP. — Sapa-AP

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Julia Zappei
Julia Zappei
AFP correspondent based in Vienna. Formerly based in Tokyo for AFPBB News and Malaysia for AFP.

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