Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin is set to race in Formula 1 with Sauber as early as 2014 as part of the team's new investment deal.
Sauber announced on Monday morning that it had secured a major new partnership with Russian firms the Investment Corporation International Fund, the State Fund of Development of Northwest Russian Federation and the International Institute of Aviation Technologies. As part of the deal, 17-year-old Formula Renault 3.5 racer Sirotkin will be placed onto a development program that it is hoped will lead to him racing in F1 in the future, potentially as early as next year. This is part of a desire to develop F1 in Russia with the country's first race in Sochi due to take place in 2014.
Sirotkin will not appear in this week's young driver test at Silverstone, with the squad sticking to its original plan to run Robin Frijns and Kimya Sato as well as race driver Nico Hulkenberg. Sirotkin is the son of Oleg Sirotkin, who heads up the International Institute of Aviation Technologies.
"The partnership includes further activities for the promotion of the inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix in Sochi in 2014 and attracting the talented young Russian generation toward motorsport," added the statement. "In particular, a development program will be set up for the Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin to prepare him as a racing driver for the team in 2014."
OPINION: Surprisingly promising, but...
Glenn Freeman, Formula Renault 3.5 correspondent (@glenn_autosport)
Sergey Sirotkin has been a bit of a surprise package in Formula Renault 3.5 this year. At only 17 years old he is younger than many of the drivers in the supporting Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup. And it is probably a combination of that inexperience and his ISR team's occasional inconsistency that has led to some patchy results.
But out of eight FR3.5 races this year, Sirotkin has qualified in the top six five times, and he currently lies eighth in the standings.
The bare facts of his start to life at this level of Europe's open-wheel ladder suggest that he has the potential to make more of a splash than several of his countrymen. But fast-tracking him to Formula 1 next year to make his debut at 18 would be a huge risk.
Surely, if Sirotkin has as much talent as some of those who have witnessed the early stages of his career believe, the best way to maximize his chances of showing that in F1 is to give him a proper schooling in the categories below.
The teenager has time on his side. But what is more important? To have a Russian -- even one who is not ready -- on the grid for the country's first grand prix next year, or to make sure that the next Russian F1 driver is capable of doing his country proud?
Sirotkin could be the driver to make the impact Russia has been waiting for in open-wheel racing. But it would be unfair to risk wasting his potential by rushing him to the top.