Russian racer Nikita Mazepin has joined the ranks of the Force India Formula 1 junior programme ahead of his switch to F3 racing.
Mazepin, 16, has joined Force India for what is described as a “long-term association”, and will take on a development driver role in the upcoming season.
“It’s an incredible feeling to join Sahara Force India,” said Mazepin. “It’s the biggest step in my career and I want to thank Vijay [Mallya] and everyone in the team for giving me this opportunity.
“I’m still young and I have a lot to learn, so the guidance and experience of Sahara Force India is really important for my development.
“My goal is to race in Formula 1 in the future and today’s news takes me closer to achieving that objective. I will work hard to help the team and do everything I can to improve my skills on and off the track.”
The son of billionaire and Uralchem owner Dmitry Mazepin, Nikita made his full-time switch to car racing in 2015 on the heels of finishing runner-up in the CIK-FIA World Karting championship – trailing champion Lando Norris but ending up ahead of fellow Force India protege Jehan Daruvala and now-former Red Bull junior Callum Ilott.
The Russian competed in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC last year, taking 12th overall with a maiden podium at Spielberg.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for Nikita to begin his Formula One apprenticeship and become fully embedded inside our team,” said Force India team boss Mallya.
“We have a strong track record of identifying and nurturing young talent and it is clear that Nikita is already a very capable and determined racer.
“We plan to use him extensively on our new simulator and he will also support our in-season testing programme, which will play an important role in the development of the VJM09.
“It’s also exciting for the team to begin working with a young Russian driver given the success of the Russian Grand Prix in recent years. It’s a market with huge potential for Formula One.”
Mazepin, who will race for Hitech GP in European F3 this year, joins the Eurocup FR2.0-bound Daruvala and F3.5 racer Alfonso Celis on Force India's development roster.