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Youngest-ever test driver in action for Lotus 02 Sep 2010

Nabil Jeffri, Duxford, UK, 1 September 2010. © Lotus Nabil Jeffri, Duxford, UK, 1 September 2010. © Lotus Heikki Kovalainen, Fairuz Fauzy and Nabil Jeffri, Duxford, UK, 1 September 2010. © Lotus Nabil Jeffri, Duxford, UK, 1 September 2010. © Lotus Nabil Jeffri at the seat fitting for his Formula One test, UK, 1 September 2010. © Lotus

Lotus made history on Wednesday, fielding the youngest-ever Formula One test driver. Sixteen year-old Malaysian Nabil Jeffri, who is a member of the AirAsia ASEAN driver development programme, undertook a day of aero testing and pit-stop practice on behalf of the team at Duxford’s Imperial War Museum runway in the UK.

After visiting the Lotus factory for a seat fitting, Jeffri borrowed a set of Lotus-branded overalls from Jarno Trulli for the test. Fellow drivers Fairuz Fauzy and Heikki Kovalainen were both on hand to offer the youngster some words of encouragement from the sidelines, as was Lotus’s chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne.

“I have had an incredible day, one of the best days of my life, and I want to thank Lotus Racing, Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne for giving me the chance to drive their car,” said Jeffri, who is currently fifth in the Formula BMW Pacific championship.

“I have to admit that the first time I went out it was pretty scary - everyone told me the acceleration would be unbelievable, and the braking would be so much greater than anything I’ve ever experienced, and it took a while to get used to that, but Heikki and Fairuz gave me some advice on how to settle in to it, and after a while I was more comfortable, and was able to get through the day’s plan.

“It’s such an honour to have had this opportunity, and it’ll be a long time before the excitement wears off, but I’ll keep on working hard to one day join Heikki, Fairuz, Jarno and the rest of the F1 grid, and with the support of people like Tony and Lotus Racing, I’ve got a great chance of doing so.”

Kovalainen was impressed by Jeffri, saying: “It’s a great experience for Nabil and it’s really good to see how well he did. He’s obviously very young, and he’ll remember this experience for the rest of his life. When you feel the power of a Formula One car for the first time it’s an incredible feeling and I told him to enjoy it, and not get stressed about trying to impress everyone too much.

“He did a great job today - he quickly picked up the correct procedures, and was working well with the whole team, which is pretty awesome when you think we’ve got the proper race team here today which could have been a bit daunting. It’s also great to see Lotus Racing investing in young talent, and we’re showing that the ladder to success in F1 is there for anyone, wherever they are in the world, which is pretty cool, however you look at it.”

Although team principal Tony Fernandes was hard at work at his office in Malaysia, he kept a close eye on proceedings and was thrilled with how well Jeffri coped with the day’s demands.

“When I first offered Nabil the chance to drive our car he couldn’t tell if I was joking or not, but I was very serious about giving a young Malaysian the chance to step up to the big time,” he explained. “He’s repaid my faith in him and has performed incredibly well, and that’s a source of real pride for me as he proves what I’ve always believed - keep dreaming, work hard to achieve what other people tell you is impossible, and your dreams will come true.

“I suspect Nabil will head back to Malaysia with his head spinning from everything that’s happened to him today, but now he can say he’s driven a Formula One car, and that will set his sights at the very top for the rest of his life. Congratulations Nabil - you’re a superstar!”