Best Chance Yet for de la Rosa

Pedro de la Rosa could look back on Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix as the highlight of his Formula One career

The Spanish reserve driver, a stand-in for injured Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya at McLaren, has never before raced such a competitive car for such a top team and never expected to either.

In his four seasons with now defunct Arrows and Jaguar, the 34-year-old finished no higher than fifth -- at Monza in 2001 with Jaguar.

"For sure I will be in the best car of my career. After that it's up to me and up to the team what we can do this weekend," he said at the circuit on Thursday.

The odds are against him, driving at a circuit that was no more than a camel farm in the desert when he last raced in 2002.

New engine rules also mean that he will have few laps to get to grips with the layout before Saturday's first one-lap qualifying. But he will give it his best shot.

"If I had to choose, obviously I would choose another circuit. But I am so lucky already to be here so let's forget about that," said de la Rosa. "I will learn the track as quickly as I can."

There is always a chance, however small, that Sunday's race could even make history as the first with two Spaniards on the front row. Renault's Fernando Alonso, winner in Malaysia and Championship leader, is a favourite to triumph in the third round of the season.

"In Formula One, you never know," said de la Rosa, told by team bosses only on Wednesday that he would be driving after Montoya fell and suffered a hairline fracture of his shoulder at the weekend.

Officially that injury was sustained while playing tennis, although paddock rumours, denied by the team, suggested a motocross bike might have been involved.

De la Rosa, driver of McLaren's third car in Friday practice, got the nod because the team's Austrian reserve Alexander Wurz could not fit comfortably into the 2005 car and has so far not driven it. The Spaniard felt he had nothing to lose.

"At the moment I'm not too worried," he said. "I honestly don't really have a clue how I will react to being surrounded by cars again. For two years I've been doing thousands of kilometres, but alone.

"I will just take it as it happens. I know I am going to be limited in my Friday mileage, not knowing the track, I know that qualifying will be a little bit more difficult," he said.

"But at the end of the day I said to myself: 'Don't look at these little things, look at the big picture. You are going to be driving a McLaren.

"I see it as a one-off," he added. "I have absolutely nothing to show or any pressure to perform. I'm relaxed."

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