When you think of successful motorsport teams in Asia, one name immediately springs to mind — MERITUS.GP, with the GP standing for ‘Great Professionals’.
With 36 championship titles, the Malaysian national motorsport team have stood out for more than 20 years and have had a hand in helping many drivers reach Formula 1, including Narain Karthikeyan, Takuma Sato, Ricardo Rosset, Rio Haryanto, Alexander Rossi, Luca Filippi, Alex Yoong and Jazeman Jaafar.
“At MERITUS.GP our motto is ‘Creating International Motorsport Heroes.’ That’s just what we have done,” said founder Peter Thompson, an Irishman who has called Malaysia home since 1996.
“Over the years we have developed many great champions, eight of whom have gone on to be part of the F1 global family either racing or as nominated test drivers.
MERITUS.GP drivers have also gone on to win across an array of championships including GP2, 24 Hour LeMans, Indy 500 and a host of Asian GT championships.
“We are delighted to have helped them in some way. More importantly, this success profiles and promotes Asian motorsport as a credible career option.”
One of the original graduates of the MERITUS.GP academy is Narain Karthikeyan, who became the first Indian driver to earn a seat in Formula 1 with Jordan Grand Prix in 2005.
Having won the Formula Asia International Series crown for MERITUS.GP in 1996, Karthikeyan drove for Jordan Grand Prix in 2005 before testing for teams such as Jaguar, Minardi and Williams, where he was their reserve driver.
While waiting for his next F1 drive, Karthikeyan competed in A1 Grand Prix, claiming two victories for India.
He also raced in Le Mans, NASCAR, Auto GP and Super Formula before returning to the F1 grid with Hispania Racing Team in 2011 and 2012.
While Karthikeyan has a longer history with MERITUS.GP, it was Japanese driver Sato who beat him to Formula 1, signing with Jordan Grand Prix in 2002 and later with Honda F1 in what was a hugely successful stint which included a podium finish at the 2004 United States Grand Prix.
Takuma’s fantastic drive in this year’s Indy 500 where he upstaged Fernando Alonso’s debut, resulted in him winning the United States’ most popular motorsports event.
Sato’s Indy 500 victory came a year after MERITUS.GP’s former GP2 driver Rossi won the 100th Indy 500.
Rossi’s stunning victory in his rookie year vindicated the American’s decision to turn his back on Formula 1 despite being offered a drive with Manor after a stint with Caterham.
“To have two of our former drivers winning back-to-back Indy 500 races is simply unbelievable,” said a beaming Thompson.
“As we always say at MERITUS.GP, ‘Winning Is Business’ and our drivers and race engineers have lived up to that motto all over the world.”
Another driver who used MERITUS.GP as a stepping stone to Formula One is Rio Haryanto, who signed for Manor F1 last season.
The Indonesian raced in 12 Grands Prix in 2016 and hopes to return to the grid next season, although at only 24, the 2009 Formula BMW Pacific champion has many years of racing ahead of him.
Another potential driver who could make the grade to Formula 1 is Malaysia’s Jazeman Jaafar, who won the 2007 Formula BMW Asia for MERITUS.GP when he was only 14!
He was invited by Mercedes to try out an F1 car at Silverstone in 2013 and two years later was offered a seat in one of their engine partner teams but financial constraints meant a deal could not be done.
Jazeman has continued making waves on the track and became the first Asian to win a race in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at the Silverstone round in Britain in May last year.
MERITUS.GP’s drivers Luca Filippi and Earl Bamber won many accolades following their successful stint with the team in GP2 Asia, with Bamber’s highlight being winning the Le Mans 24-hour race in 2015 and 2017.
Former MERITUS.GP driver, Ho-ping Tung and his team finished second to Bamber this year but won the LMP2 class.
Separately, another protegee Afiq Ikhwan Yazid, claimed a second straight overall title in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia Series with one round to go, following a rewarding weekend at the Shanghai International Circuit this season.
With two recent Indy 500 crowns, two Le mans 24-hour wins, seven GT Asia championship titles, GP2 Asia vice championship title, MERITUS.GP champions have proved beyond a doubt that Asia offers a cost-effective springboard for a driver to reach the very top levels of motorsport.
MERITUS.GP – Great Professionals – Truly Asian.
Formula 4 SEA
Is F1 your dream? FIA F4(Formula 4 SEA) is the first step! F4SEA is a 30 race 5 event championship, designed to transition karters to formula racing. The championship focuses on training young drivers while supporting events like Formula 1 and Asian Le Mans.