McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh has paid tribute to Pedro de la Rosa's contribution to the squad after the Spaniard opted to step down from his test and reserve role to return to racing with HRT.
De la Rosa has been with McLaren since 2003, although his time there was punctuated by a brief racing comeback with Sauber in the first part of 2010, and Whitmarsh said his role in the Woking team's success in that time could not be underestimated.
"Pedro's contribution has been fantastically valuable – perhaps even more valuable than may be apparent to outsiders in fact – ever since he joined us in 2003," said Whitmarsh. "As a test driver, he's been extraordinarily hard-working – on track and, latterly, more often, in our simulator – and his feedback has been reliable and expert. But his contributions have gone wider and deeper than that: Pedro is the archetypal team player, a big motivational presence in our team, and, perhaps because of that, he's someone whom I personally will always count as a true friend."
Whitmarsh said he fully understood de la Rosa's desire to get back to racing. The 40-year-old Spaniard drove nine grands prix for McLaren in 2005/06, first substituting for, then replacing Juan Pablo Montoya, and also briefly rejoined the grid with Sauber.
"In 2010 and 2011 he drove some races for the Sauber team and, although he's always approached his test and development work with McLaren with energy and enthusiasm, he remains a racer at heart," said Whitmarsh. "For that reason, we understand and support his decision to join HRT as a race driver, and we wish him well. It goes without saying, however, that he'll be missed."
Whitmarsh confirmed that McLaren had no plans to directly replace de la Rosa as it also had Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey available for development duties.
"We'll continue to be well served by Gary and Oliver, both of whom will continue their excellent test and development work for us in Pedro's absence," he said.