Force India has announced that 16-year-old Nikita Mazepin has joined the Formula 1 team as a development driver.
Mazepin is preparing for his debut in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2016, where he will race for HitechGP alongside pre-season championship favourite?George Russell and fellow rookie?Ben Barnicoat.
Force India said that Mazepin “will be immersed in the team as part of an extensive development programme with regular simulator sessions and attendance at various race events during the 2016 season.”
“?It?s an incredible feeling to join Sahara Force India,” Mazepin said of his new role.
“It?s the biggest step in my career and I want to thank Vijay [Mallya, team owner] 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 Force India is really important for my development.”
“My goal is to race in Formula 1 in the future and today?s news 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.”
Mazepin finished as runner-up to?Lando Norris in the 2014 CIK-FIA World Championship in karting, and stepped up to single-seaters?last year, finishing 12th in the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC championship with a podium finish at Spielberg.
Mallya added:??This is a fantastic opportunity for Nikita to begin his Formula 1 apprenticeship and become fully embedded inside our team.
“We have a strong track record of identifying and nurturing young talent and it is 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 a Formula 1 driver.”
“We plan to use him extensively on our new simulator and he will also support our in-season testing programme, which will play an important role in the development of the VJM09.
“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.?
Mazepin’s father Dmitry is a billionaire whose chemicals company is sponsoring the new Hitech F3 project.
Last November, Force India recruited Mexican driver?Alfonso Celis, Jr. to a similar development driver role at the team.