NEW BEGINNINGS: Lotus driver Romain Grosjean will leave the team at the end of 2016 and be Haas F1 team's new lead driver. Image: AFP / Jared C Tilton
North Carolina - France's Romain Grosjean is leaving Lotus at the end of the season to become 'lead driver' at the new US-owned Haas Formula 1 team in 2016.
Team founder and chairman Gene Haas, who is also co-owner of the successful Stewart-Haas Nascar outfit, presented a smiling Grosjean at a news conference at their Kannapolis headquarters in North Carolina.
Ferrari-powered Haas, who has a close technical partnership with Maranello, is the first US-owned entrants in Formula 1 since 1986.
Haas told reporters: "He's going to have a lot of work to do, he's going to be our lead driver and we are going to depend heavily on him to help us with our strategies with the car, with the racetracks and learning the whole operations of an F1 team.
Grosjean said he had been interested in the Haas project from the outset and liked the fact that they were taking a different approach to other new teams in the past.
Grosjean said: "I think it's an approach that can be pretty quickly successful. I like the idea, this partnership with Ferrari, I like the way everything has been going, I like the fact that it's going slowly but nicely and I'm very happy that I made that decision."
Gutierrez up next?
Grosjean, 29, has 10 podium finishes from 78 grands prix after starting his career with Renault - Lotus's predecessors who are in the process of buying back that financially struggling team - in 2009.
Most recently, he was third in Belgium in August.
The Ferrari connection will be the clincher for the Frenchman however, with the Italian team likely to be looking for a replacement for Finland's Kimi Raikkonen at the end of 2016.
Being at Haas, who is expected to announce Ferrari's Mexican reserve Esteban Gutierrez as their second race driver, will give Grosjean plenty of scope to show what he can do.
"We should be able to run straight away without having the problems of a new team," Grosjean said. "I think it will be really good to score a few points early in the season for a newcomer American team.
Grosjean said: "I have spent 10 years in Enstone (the Lotus factory), I know the guys very well and it would have been easy and comfortable to stay.
"On the other hand, I want to try to win races and championships and I thought that coming here to Haas was a good step and a good direction to achieve that."
Haas said there had been pressure to sign an American driver but, with Alex Rossi only this month becoming the first US racer in F1 since 2007, the team needed someone more experienced.
"The reality was that a rookie driver with a rookie team just isn't a good fit," Haas said. "The primary purpose here is to show that as an American manufacturer we can compete in the most difficult competitive series in car racing in the world."