HRT makes Shanghai native nation's first to become a full-fledged driver
Another bridge has been crossed.
HRT announced on Tuesday that Shanghai native Ma Qinghua will become the first Chinese Formula One driver.
Ma completed practice sessions for the Spanish-based team in Monza, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, where he proved himself talented enough to earn a spot on the team.
"We set ourselves some targets which have been accomplished, not only in the anticipated period of time, but also ahead of schedule," said HRT marketing director David Mancebo at a news conference announcing the decision.
"Ma has progressed notably in his development as a driver and has fit into the team perfectly. He's a driver with incredible talent and great potential."
Before Ma, Dutch-born Tung Ho-pin was the first ethnic Chinese to be included in a Formula One team's line-up when Renault (now Lotus) named him an official reserve in 2010. Tung was a test driver last season, but wasn't able to move beyond that stage.
Ma made his debut during a practice session for HRT at the Italian Grand Prix on Sept 7, making history as the first Chinese-born driver to pilot an F1 car at an FIA-sanctioned event.
On Tuesday, the 25-year-old said "today marks the real start of my F1 career".
"I was really happy (when I learned of the decision)," Ma wrote on his Tencent Weibo account. "It will encourage me to train harder and perform well in testing and racing.
"I hope through my performance, more Chinese will pay attention to F1 and motor sports. I hope to make my own contribution to the development of China's motor sports."
HRT signed Ma as a member of its driver development program in April. The organization said in a statement that the program designed for Ma included private tests with cars from different categories and simulator tests.
Now that he's won over the team with his expertise and personality, the 25-year-old is expected to represent HRT as a full-scale grand prix driver.
"Of course I wish to make my debut in Shanghai next year, so I can have the opportunity to show my family and friends what I can do in my hometown— but it all depends on my team's arrangement," Ma said. "It's a great honor for me to compete with the world's top racers on the same stage. HRT is a young team and we still need more time and more experience to get stronger. I hope I can help the team make more progress."
The team promised its support.
"Our team is a young one … but without a doubt, we would like to grant Ma continuity and would like to continue counting on him for the future as we have done this year," Mancebo said.
It's been eight years since China began hosting a grand prix － too long, for many fans.
Li Yuyi, the director of the Shanghai Sports Bureau and chairman of the Shanghai Sports Federation, hailed Ma's breakthrough, saying the Shanghai sports authorities will provide Ma with the strongest possible support.
"We believe you'll be as successful as Yao Ming and Liu Xiang, and we're looking forward to the day that you are standing on the victory platform of a grand prix, representing China," Li said.
Although ticket sale for the 2013 F1 Chinese Grand Prix have not begun, fans expect a surge in television ratings.
"Not only will more Chinese watch F1 next year, Ma's advertising value will increase significantly," said Yu Hailin, an F1 fan from Shanghai who has been following Ma closely.
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