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McLaren finalise 2007 driver line-up 24 Nov 2006

L-R: Lewis Hamilton (GBR), with McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis (GBR) has joined McLaren Mercedes for 2007. Lewis Hamilton Joins Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, McLaren Technology Centre, England, 24 November 2006. © McLaren.

Lewis Hamilton will race for McLaren next year, the team announced on Friday. Hamilton will compete alongside world champion Fernando Alonso, while Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett remain in their testing roles.

"It's a dream come true," said Hamilton. "To be racing in Formula One with McLaren has been the ultimate goal for me since I was very young and this opportunity is a fantastic way to end what has been the best year for me. I have grown up with McLaren and Mercedes and wouldn't be where I am today without their continued support and guidance. However I'm aware that this will be a challenge and I know that there will be a lot of attention on me. However the team has told me just to relax, do the best I can and enjoy the opportunity. I will work hard to get good results."

The 21 year-old British driver clinched this year’s GP2 championship after dominating the F3 Euro Series in 2005. He has been involved in McLaren’s Young Driver programme since its inception in 1998 and in September this year tested for the team for the first time. He will resume his testing programme at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya next week.

"Since 1998 Lewis has formed an important part of our long-term strategy and we are pleased that we are able to help him take another step and achieve his dream of becoming a Formula One racing driver," explained Ron Dennis, McLaren's team principal. "Pedro has done an outstanding job for us this season but we felt it was the right time to provide Lewis with this opportunity. It's obviously going to be the biggest challenge of Lewis's career so far but it's one that we are sure he will be able to meet.”

The team's decision to sign Hamilton means Pedro de la Rosa, who competed in eight races for the team in the 2006 season, will revert to his role as test driver. De la Rosa replaced Juan Pablo Montoya in July, after the Colombian moved to NASCAR, and enjoyed several strong races including a podium finish at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"I have really enjoyed the opportunity to race for Team McLaren Mercedes for the last eight races of the 2006 season," commented De la Rosa. "However I have always been aware that the team might decide to give another driver the same opportunity, so the fact that Lewis will be in the car comes as no surprise. Obviously I would have preferred to race myself but also understand why the team has decided to put Lewis in the car. I wish him all the best and look forward to continue working with him."

The Spaniard will test alongside British driver Gary Paffett, who continues in his role with the team.

“I am delighted to be remaining with the team, it is a fantastic racing organisation and I am looking forward to working with my fellow teammates on our 2007 Championship challenge," said Paffett. "As with any driver, there is always a desire to be racing in Formula One, however this was not possible. We had a number of other opportunities available and have decided that this was the strongest option. I would like to congratulate Lewis on today’s announcement.”