Silverstone-based Sahara Force India have signed 16-year-old Russian racer Nikita Mazepin as a development driver for the 2016 season, writes James Beckett.
The signing marks the beginning of a long-term association with the team for the youngster, who will contest the 2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship with the Hi-Tech Racing team, also based in Silverstone.
Mazepin will take part in an extensive development programme for the F1 team, with regular simulator sessions and attendance at various race events during the 2016 season scheduled.
The youngster started his career in karting, finishing second in the 2014 CIK-FIA World Championship, before graduating to Formula Renault 2.0 in 2015 where he secured his first single-seater podium finish.
Speaking this week, he said: “It’s an incredible feeling to join Force India. It’s the biggest step in my career and I want to thank Vijay and everyone in the team for giving me this opportunity.
“I’m still young and I have a lot to learn, so the guidance and experience of Sahara Force India is really important for my development.
“My goal is to race in F1 in the future and this takes me closer to achieving that objective. I will work hard to help the team and do everything I can to improve my skills on and off the track.”
Vijay Mallya, Force India’s team principal, added: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Nikita to begin his F1 apprenticeship and become fully embedded inside our team.
“We have a strong track record of identifying and nurturing young talent and it’s clear that Nikita is already a very capable and determined racer – 2016 will provide the perfect opportunity to showcase his abilities and develop the skills needed to become an F1 driver.
“It’s also exciting for the team to begin working with a young Russian driver given the success of the Russian Grand Prix in recent years.
“It’s a market with huge potential for Formula One and the emergence of young talents, such as Nikita, will ensure interest in the sport continues to grow rapidly.”
The 2016 season will see the third-running of the Russian Grand Prix.
The Sochi Autodron has been a popular race since its arrival with the track using aspects of the Olympic Village that was created for the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi.
Mazepin added: “Force India scored a podium finish in Sochi in 2015 with Sergio Perez, and I dream of standing on the podium after my home Grand Prix in future years. I am looking forward to starting work with Force India.”