Singapore: No-one was more surprised than Alexander Rossi when he got the call from the Manor Marussia team saying he would make his Formula One debut at this weekend`s Singapore Grand Prix.
The Californian has always believed he would make it to Formula One, but after his hopes were dashed last year he was not expecting it to happen so soon.
Rossi was only told this week that he would be starting in Singapore, replacing Spaniard Roberto Merhi for five of the remaining seven races this year, and he needed to get himself to Southeast Asia in a hurry.
"I was on a plane Tuesday evening, and I booked the flight Tuesday morning," he told reporters on Thursday.
"It was quite a last-minute thing. The discussions started taking place shortly after Monza."
Rossi nearly raced for Marussia in Belgium last year, when the team threatened to drop Britain`s Max Chilton in a contractual dispute.
He was behind the wheel for first practice but didn`t get to race after the team resolved their row with Chilton.
"It`s very surreal now that it`s about to happen," he said.
"This is a major step in...really firmly putting myself on the Formula One map and the radar, and I`m just focussing on doing a really good job in these five races, and showing that I am capable of being in Formula One and doing a good job."
Formula One`s first American driver since 2007, Rossi is well aware of the opportunity he has been given. His five races will include next month`s U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
Rossi is not racing all seven races because he still has commitments to the GP2 season, where he is currently second in the championship.
"It`s a massive boost and I think it`s going to be really special in Austin in a couple of weeks," he said.
"Having Austin come back on to the calendar, we`ve already seen the progress that that has given, having an American team come is going to take that a bit farther, and having an American driver, I think, is the final step in the puzzle."
Rossi had been linked to the U.S.-based Haas Formula One team, who are to debut next year, but said he was not in discussions about joining them.
Marussia are last in the standings, without a point, but Rossi saw Singapore as a chance to show what he could do.
"My goal is to race full-time in Formula One...in whatever situation that may present itself I`m going to jump at that with open arms," he said.
"What this may lead to, I don`t know. I`m hopeful that doing a good job in these five races will prove I belong here, and that I`m capable of doing it just as much as anyone else."
Rossi has chosen number 53 for his debut, the same number carried by Disney`s `Herbie the Love Bug`, but he said was unaware of the coincidence.
Merhi, speaking at a news conference, said he found out he was being replaced only when he got to Singapore.
"I came here on Monday and when I arrived the team gave me the news I was not driving and Rossi would be in my place for five of the seven races," he said. "For next season, I do not know yet."