KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA // Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will race for Lotus when the Malaysian-backed Formula One team returns to the starting grid next season. Both the former Toyota driver Trulli and Kovalainen, who was replaced by F1 champion Jenson Button at McLaren, have signed three-year contracts, the Lotus boss Tony Fernandes said today. Fernandes, an airline mogul who is backing the team declined to provide financial details.
Lotus last raced in 1994 and will join four other new teams for the 2010 F1 season - USF1, Campos, Sauber and Manor, which will compete as Virgin Racing. "We're facing a hard task (but) this is also a thrilling challenge," Trulli said. "It's a brand new team. We are all extremely committed and ready to face a difficult task." Trulli, 35, was left without a drive following Japanese team Toyota's exit from F1 last month in order to cut costs and focus on its core carmaking business. Kovalainen said he signed up because he believes Lotus "have a lot of potential and a very good chance of being a successful team in the future".
Fernandes said Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy will be the team's third driver, adding that the 2010 Lotus race car is expected to be ready by mid-January and rolled out in February. Lotus' target is to be the best of the five new teams next season, Fernandes said. Kovalainen, 28, warned that Lotus' return to F1 would not be easy. "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.
Trulli, also 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.