BARCELONA Indian teenager Arjun Maini has joined the U.S.-owned Haas Formula One team as a development driver alongside 18-year-old American Santino Ferrucci.
Born and brought up in Bangalore, the 19-year-old won the Force India team's 'One in a Billion' Indian driver talent competition in 2011, which led to a season of karting in Europe. He is currently competing in the GP3 support series.
"All of my racing to date has been with the focus of becoming a Formula One driver, and this opportunity puts me one step closer to my goal," he said at the Spanish Grand Prix on Thursday.
"I am eager to learn, understand and experience how a Formula One team operates. Everything I learn can be used immediately in GP3 while preparing for my ultimate goal of Formula One."
Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok are the only Indians to have raced in Formula One, with the former scoring points when he finished fourth for Jordan in the six-car U.S. Grand Prix of 2005.
"Karun has been a great help because he has been sort of guiding me all throughout my career," Maini, whose brother Kush races in Formula Four, told Reuters.
India hosted a grand prix at the Buddh International Circuit near New Delhi between 2011 and 2013 but hopes of a return to the calendar have dimmed.
Maini also faces an uphill battle to progress to a full race seat, regardless of results, in a sport with only 20 drivers on the grid and some depending on sponsorship to be there.
The teenager said that his Haas deal did not require him to bring a financial contribution but hoped it would put him more on the radar for Indian backers.
"It was important for me to get this role in because it opens me up to many of the Indian Formula One fans who wouldn't have known me before," he said. "And this will help me financially with the sponsorships."
Haas, who are Ferrari powered and work closely with the Italian team, made their Formula One debut last season and finished eighth overall.
The team said the development drivers would be "embedded", attending races and tests while also taking part in their simulator program.
"As Haas F1 Team continues to mature, we must look toward our future and develop potential talent," said team principal Guenther Steiner.
"Arjun was successful in karting and has transitioned well to various Formula series and now GP3. We’ll keep a keen eye on his progress this year."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)