LONDON // The new Malaysian-backed Lotus team have dashed Takuma Sato's hopes of a Formula One comeback with them next year, the Japanese driver's management say. "We know Taku has not got Lotus - we found out yesterday," his commercial manager Matthew Winter said. "He has now come off the list." Lotus F1, run by AirAsia airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, are due to announce their driver line-up in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow with Italian Jarno Trulli on pole position for one of the two race seats.
Finland's Heikki Kovalainen, replaced by world champion Jenson Button at McLaren, could be the other. Sato, who ranks as Japan's most successful Formula One racer, had been mentioned among those on a shortlist along with Malaysian Fairuz Fauzy who is expected to be test and reserve driver. Winter said the former Jordan and Honda driver Sato, whose last F1 race was with now-defunct Super Aguri team in 2008, was disappointed but had not completely given up hope of a return.
"We don't know what the criteria was (for Lotus)," he explained. "We thought he was a very strong contender, you don't get more Asian than Taku. "We haven't given up. There are still a few seats open and we are trying to hunt them down," he added. "His options are running out so we don't know if he is going to be in Formula One next year." Sato tested for Toro Rosso in the build-up to the 2008 season but the Red Bull-owned team opted instead for Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who was then replaced by Jaime Alguersuari this year.
The Spaniard has yet to be confirmed by the team for 2010, although he is expected to be. Renault have yet to name a second driver, with the future ownership of the team still to be decided, while the returning Sauber team and newcomers US F1 both have two seats to fill. Manor GP, who will become Virgin Racing next year, are expected to complete their line-up on Tuesday with Brazilian Lucas di Grassi joining Germany's Timo Glock.
Spanish-based newcomers Campos Meta have Brazilian Bruno Senna signed up and have been linked with well-funded Russian Vitaly Petrov and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. * Reuters