American driver Alexander Rossi will make his Formula 1 debut this weekend in place of Max Chilton at Marussia.
Rossi joined the Anglo-Russian team last month after moving from Caterham, and was expected to take part in practice for the race at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.
However, it has been confirmed by the team that Chilton has been benched whilst his “contractual issues are resolved”.
Therefore, Rossi will become the first American driver since Scott Speed in 2007 to take part in a grand prix.
“It goes without saying that I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to race in Formula 1 for the first time and I cannot thank the Marussia F1 Team enough for the faith they are demonstrating in me,” Rossi said. “It’s a very big moment for me and there’s a lot to prepare in a short space of time, but on the other hand I have felt ready for this for quite a while now.
“It is also exciting to be given this opportunity at such a fantastic and historical circuit as Spa-Francorchamps. I can’t wait to drive the MR03 from tomorrow and I hope to reward the team with a solid race weekend.”
Speaking about the news, team principal John Booth confirmed that Max Chilton will be returning to the seat once the contractual issues had been resolved.
“Although it was not our intention to offer Alexander the possibility to race this season, in light of the circumstances we are pleased to be providing him with the opportunity to make his Grand Prix debut at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Franchorchamps,” Booth said.
“Naturally we hope to resume normal service with respect to our established race driver line-up as soon as possible, but for now we wish Alexander well for the weekend ahead and we look forward to seeing him in action.”
Rossi has taken part in a handful of free practice sessions over the past three years, with the most recent coming at June’s Canadian Grand Prix. For some time now, he has been pushing for a full-time seat, but has largely had to make do with racing in GP2.
Although his debut will come under strange circumstances, it will still be interesting to see how he fares in his first grand prix outing this weekend.
Max Chilton’s PR company has also issued the following statement on the matter:
“Max Chilton has volunteered to step out of his race seat for this weekend’s race in Spa, Belgium to allow the team to attract much-needed funds by selling his seat.
“Max will attend the race, and be on hand to support the team in any way possible.
“Marussia are currently in talks with several new investors and it is expected the situation will be resolved before the next race in the F1 calendar in Monza.”
This will be the first time since the 2001 Italian Grand Prix that two drivers have made their debut in the middle of the season at the same race. Three-time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer will be racing for Caterham, replacing Kamui Kobayashi for this race only.
You can watch Rossi race in this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.