Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will race for Lotus when the Malaysian-backed Formula One team returns to the starting grid next season.

Both former Toyota driver Trulli and Kovalainen, who was replaced by F1 champion Jenson Button at McLaren, have signed three-year contracts, Lotus boss Tony Fernandes said.

Lotus last raced in 1994 and will join four other new teams for the 2010 F1 season - USF1, Campos, Sauber and Manor, which will compete as Virgin Racing.

“We’re facing a hard task (but) this is also a thrilling challenge,” Trulli told reporters. “It’s a brand new team. We are all extremely committed and ready to face a difficult task,” especially in the first part of the season.

Trulli, 35, was left without a drive following Japanese team Toyota’s exit from F1 last month.

Kovalainen said he signed up because he believes Lotus “has a lot of potential and a very good chance of being a successful team in the future.”

Fernandes said Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy will be the team’s third driver, adding that the 2010 Lotus race car is expected to be ready by mid-January and rolled out in February.

Lotus’ target is to be the best of the five new teams next season, Fernandes said.

Kovalainen, 28, warned that Lotus’ return to F1 “will not be easy and we will have tough times at the beginning.”

“We have to be realistic and keep the focus on developing the team to a state where we can operate like any other current top F1 team,” the Finn said.

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