By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Frenchman Cyril Abiteboul became the youngest team principal in Formula One on Thursday with Caterham naming the 35-year-old as successor to Malaysian entrepreneur and co-owner Tony Fernandes.
Abiteboul was already the chief executive of the British-based team, who have yet to score a point in three years, and will now combine both roles.
"Cyril is going to be an excellent team principal. He has extensive experience in F1, he is extremely well respected and he shares our vision for what we want our team to achieve," said Fernandes in a statement.
"He takes over during a season when we have not yet fulfilled our potential, but at a time when we have everything in place to help us do so. One day we will earn our seat at the top table of Formula One and he is the right person to take us there."
Abiteboul was previously deputy managing director of Renault Sport F1 and has spent 11 years with the French car manufacturer. Renault provide Caterham's engines.
Fernandes announced earlier in the week, after presenting a joint venture between his Caterham group and Renault to revive the Alpine sportscar brand, that he would be handing over his F1 duties.
He said on Thursday that the move would allow him to focus on his AirAsia airline while Caterham Group chief executive Riad Asmat would oversee the automotive side.
Fernandes, who is stepping down as CEO of the Malaysian-listed airline to focus on regional growth with its Indonesian operation, will remain as co-chairman of Caterham Group with Kamarudin Meranun.
"Kamarudin and I will still have an active interest in our various Caterham companies, but we have now reached the point in the growth of the business where it makes most sense to step back," said Fernandes, who also owns struggling Premier League soccer club Queens Park Rangers.
"We have taken Caterham Group from nothing just three years ago to today, where Caterham Cars has the platform with Renault to take it from a niche brand into an innovative participant in the global automotive market."
The Caterham Group includes a technology company that is also working with Renault on the design and development of sportscars as well as with Airbus on the aviation side.
Caterham's current F1 drivers are Finland's Heikki Kovalainen and Russian Vitaly Petrov.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)