Last year, Ma Qing Hua made history by becoming the first ever Chinese driver to drive a Formula 1 car at an FIA-sanctioned event when he was plucked from relative obscurity and given the role of the HRTF1 Team’s development driver.
The honours continued when he made his Grand Prix debut with a Friday practice outing at the Italian Grand Prix a few months later, and was given a further three Frriday practice opportunities before the year was out.
Despite his lack of high-performance open-wheel racing experience, Ma acquitted himself well and showed decent pace in the underfunded team.
And so he finds himself as part of Caterham’s driver line-up for the 2012 season, appointed as the Leafield team’s test driver as well as one half of its GP2 Series line-up for the upcoming season.
The aim, it seems is very clear: to build Ma’s open-wheel racing experience to a sufficient level and skill to ensure he warrants a place in F1 as a racing driver.
We discussed his career plans in a one-on-one interview in Caterham’s hospitality unit at the Australian Grand Prix, his first race weekend in Caterham colours.
“On the back of what I achieved last year with HRT, we struck up a relationship with Caterham and that led to the team giving me this opportunity as its test driver,” he told us on Thursday in the team’s hospitality unit.
Does he view this appointment as a positive step in his career?
“Of course, Caterham is a better team. It’s technical management is stronger and we have a better car. We also have the GP2 team which can give me more experience in a category similar to Formula 1.”
Part of Ma’s role with the team will also mean that he will form one-half of the team’s GP2 Series line-up, with whom Giedo van der Garde (now appointed to the outfit’s race line-up) claimed two race wins last year.
Ma hasn’t competed in full-time open-wheel racing since the 2008 British Formula 3 Championship, and he has set himself small targets as he tries to achieve his goal of becoming China’s first Formula 1 driver.
“The target for me in GP2 is to make sure I finish the races,” he said. “The competition is very close and I think I will be the only driver on the grid who has never competed in the championship before.
“And with identical machinery, the battles will be very close – even losing a tenth of a second on your lap in qualifying can cost you many places on the starting grid.
This will be a very big challenge for me, but I have been lucky enough to test the GP2 car in both dry and wet conditions. I was happy with my pace, and in the wet conditions at Barcelona, I was only half a second off the pace.
“At this stage, the most important thing for me is to get the mileage under my belt. But if I’m in a position to score points or challenge for better results like a podium, I will definitely go for it, but also being sure that I don’t make a mistake in the process.”
One of the announcements made by the team when his signing was confirmed was that Ma would have his first Formula 1 Friday practice outing of 2013 in front of him home fans at the Chinese Grand Prix.
“I was very excited to hear the news that I will drive in Friday practice on home soil,” he grinned. “I have dreamed of this for many years, and to be the first to do so will make me so happy. Equally, I must make sure I concentrate on the job at hand.
“Formula 1 has been a big change for China. The sport is getting more popularity and this has changed my own life because I am now recognised more.
“But I know that I still have a long way to go before I am entitled to become a Formula 1 racing driver; this isn’t an easy journey and I will need to prepare everything perfectly to make it happen.”
We offer our sincerest thanks to the Caterham F1 Team for their assistance in making this interview possible.