x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ma Qing Hua to become first Chinese F1 driver after being named for Monza practice

Shanghai-born driver Ma Qing Hua will replace Narain Karthikeyan for the first practice session of the Italian Grand Prix.

Chinese F1 driver Ma Qing Hua.
Chinese F1 driver Ma Qing Hua.

MONZA, Italy // Ma Qing Hua will become the first Chinese driver to take part in a Formula One grand prix weekend when he replaces India's Narain Karthikeyan at the wheel of an HRT in free practice at Monza on Friday.

HRT said yesterday the Shanghai-born 24 year old will take part in the morning session at the Italian Grand Prix, the final European round of the season, and then hand the car back to Karthikeyan who will race on Sunday.

Ma earned his mandatory FIA super licence after completing 483.062km in a young driver test at Silverstone in July. He has also spent time in a simulator and accompanied the team to races.

"This is a very important step towards my dream of becoming a Formula One driver," he said in a team statement.

"It will be my second time in the car ... and I'm very excited about driving at a circuit like Monza.

"It will be the first time that a Chinese driver takes part in a grand prix and that, for Chinese motorsport, is another huge stride and a fantastic opportunity."

Ma joined the Spanish-based team, who have never scored a point and are usually at the back of the grid, in April as a member of their young driver development programme.

China has hosted a grand prix in Shanghai since 2004 but, with motor racing in its infancy in the country, has yet to find a home-grown talent good enough to race in Formula One.

The Dutch-born Chinese driver Ho Pin Tung tested with the former champions Williams in 2003 and was a Renault reserve in 2010 but did not take part in a grand prix weekend.

Meanwhile, safety was once again the talk of the paddock area at Monza and some of the discussion was still focused on theincidents at Spa last weekend.

The championship leader and Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso nearly had his head clipped when Romain Grosjean's Lotus flew over him in a wild multi-car accident at the start Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

Ideas being debated run from some sort of cage around drivers' heads to adding rear-wheel bumpers to employing running starts.

Others have called for a football-like system whereby if you get two warnings for reckless driving you miss the next race, but it is all talk for now in a climate which feels similar to the aftermath of Ayrton Senna's death in 1994.

Alonso is alive and well, and the Italian Grand Prix represents a chance for him to bounce back and pad his 24-point lead over Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel.

The crash sent Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez off the track at the first corner when Grosjean went for a small gap and clipped Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes. That sent both cars spinning and led to Grosjean's Lotus flying over Alonso's Ferrari, which then took out Perez's Sauber.

"The risk was large and seeing another car flying over one of ours, just a few centimetres from his helmet, made us feel like our hearts were in our throats for a few dozen seconds," said Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal.

For causing the accident, Grosjean was banned for one race and will be replaced by Jerome D'Ambrosio at Lotus this weekend.

Alonso said on Tuesday that he felt no ill will toward Grosjean.

"We've spoken about it," Alonso said in an online chat with Ferrari fans.

"I have a good relationship with him. We were teammates at Renault and after the accident he sent me an SMS saying he was sorry and that he hadn't calculated the distance well."

Elsewhere, the American Le Mans Series has announced it will merge with the rival Rolex Grand-Am Series starting in 2014.

Details still to be worked out are the technical regulations and series name, but it was agreed 12 races will make up the first season.

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