Bruno Senna will race for Williams this season, following in the footsteps of his late uncle Ayrton, who died in one of the Formula One team’s cars at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

The former champions, who have carried Senna’s name on all their cars ever since that fateful May afternoon at Imola, said in a statement that the 28-year-old would partner Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado.

Senna, who made his Formula One debut with the struggling HRT team in 2010 and competed in the last eight races for Renault last year as a stand-in, will start testing with Williams at Spain’s Jerez circuit on 9 February.

He replaces his 39-year-old compatriot Rubens Barrichello, a family friend who made his race debut in 1993 with Ayrton as his mentor. Barrichello’s F1 career now appears to be at an end after 19 seasons, 11 race wins and more starts than any other driver.

“It will be very interesting to drive for a team that my uncle has driven for, particularly as quite a few of the people here actually worked with Ayrton,” Senna, whose mother, Viviane, was Ayrton’s older sister, said in a statement.

“Hopefully we can bring back some memories and create some great new ones too. I also want to get some good results in return for the support my country has given me to help get me to this position today. I am very proud to be Brazilian and more motivated than ever to demonstrate what I can do.”

No financial details were given, but Senna is expected to bring a significant Brazilian sponsor with him to a team currently searching for a new title backer after the departure of the telecommunications giant AT&T. Senna, who raced karts with Ayrton on the family farm and also features in the recent award-winning documentary about his uncle’s life and death, wears a blue cap with the branding of the Brazilian telecoms company Embratel, his personal sponsor.

The ever-smiling Brazilian made several visits to the Williams team’s factory at Grove in Oxfordshire before and after Christmas. The marque, who endured their worst ever season last year, secretly tried him out in their simulator and put him through his paces in the gym. The team’s principal, Frank Williams, said: “The circumstances of Bruno’s two seasons in Formula One have not given him an ideal opportunity to deliver consistently so it was essential that we spent as much time with him as possible to understand and evaluate him as a driver.

“We have done this both on track and in our simulator and he has proven quick, technically insightful and above all capable of learning and applying his learning quickly and consistently. Now we are looking forward to seeing that talent in our race car.” Senna’s appointment leaves only one declared vacancy, alongside the Spanish veteran Pedro de la Rosa at HRT. It also means Brazil will have two drivers on the grid next season, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa the other one.

Williams, once dominant but without a drivers’ championship since Jacques Villeneuve won their seventh in 1997, scored only five points last season, finishing ninth of the 12 teams, but will have a Renault engine this year as well as a reorganised technical team under the former McLaren man Mike Coughlan. Senna said: “I’m really happy to be a part of a team with such a fantastic heritage. I am very proud that Williams has chosen me to race in what will be an important year for them. Everyone is extremely motivated for 2012 and it is great to be part of that motivation.

“It is true that they didn’t have the best season last year, but it is clear that the team is on a new path and everyone is pulling together to ensure that this year is a better one. I really hope that I can demonstrate what I can do.”

source: © Reuters