Lotus F1 Racing does not need to place a Malaysian driver in one of its race seats in 2010, according to team principal Tony Fernandes, but the team would like to run a driver from that part of the world in the future.
Fernandes, a successful Malaysian entrepreneur who launched Air Asia, is keen for the team to create a platform for driver development in South East Asia. But he insists that the team will only be willing to run a Malaysian driver if they are ready for Formula 1. Fairuz Fauzy, who finished second in this year's Formula Renault 3.5 championship, is likely to be involved with the team, possibly as a third driver.
"That's not relevant for me at the moment because it's not a one-year project," he told AUTOSPORT when asked whether Lotus needs a Malaysian race driver next year. "The important thing is the Malaysian team, not the Malaysian driver.
"The fact is, people can support the team. If you look at Ferrari, they are an Italian team and every Italian supports them whether you have Kimi Raikkonen in the car, who's a Finn, or Fernando Alonso, who is Spanish. Ferrari hasn't had an Italian World Champion for a very long time, but it is still the Italian team."
Fernandes is also keen not to repeat the negative publicity Alex Yoong received in Malaysia when he raced for Minardi in 2001-2002. Despite going on to become a race-winning A1GP driver, Yoong did not have the experience required for F1 and received some unfair press coverage during his time as the Malaysian media grew impatient with his battle to get up to speed as a grand prix driver.
"He was thrown in at the deep end and we won't make that mistake," said Fernandes. "Everyone feels that they are ready, but when you have a grid that is separated by 1.5 seconds it's highly competitive. The idea of Fairuz Fauzy is not just to shove a Malaysian driver in there to say that you are doing it.
"The success of this program is whether you have 20 Malaysian drivers that have the ability and that one day maybe a team like McLaren or Ferrari has a Malaysian driver. But it is not critical for me. If Fauzy makes it, great -- that's a bonus -- but we are not going to throw him in at the deep end."
Lotus technical director Mike Gascoyne has said he is keen to have two experienced drivers, with ex-Toyota racer Jarno Trulli in contention for a drive, but Fernandes is keen to have a blend of youth and experience.
"If we can get a guy who has been doing it for a long time, that's fantastic because you can't buy experience and he can help us develop the car and the team," said Fernandes. "And he can help us after the race, adding value to driver development.
"On the second driver, I think that it's good to have someone young because sometimes if you have been doing it for 15 years there is a little bit of cynicism and it gets repetitious. If you've got an energetic young guy that rubs off on you. Ultimately, I will leave it to Mike and the team to decide."