"I hope that this is a really good start to a career in Formula One," said the 26-year-old, who tested for Lotus in Abu Dhabi last year only days after Kimi Raikkonen had won the grand prix there for the team.
"I very much hope, step by step, to get into Formula One as a race driver and being here as a third driver is as near as you can get," said Valsecchi, although how much track time he might get was unclear with Belgian Jerome D'Ambrosio remaining the official reserve driver.
"If I do the best job I can this year then it will open up my chances for the future and we'll see if I'm good enough."
Italy had no Formula One driver competing in the championship last season for the first time since 1970.
Lotus also announced that Frenchman Nicolas Prost, the 31-year-old son of four-times world champion Alain, would have a development driver role.
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