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India looks for its “One in a billion” racing driver
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India looks for its “One in a billion” racing driver
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Apr 2011   |  8:40 am GMT  |  49 comments

Denis Jenkinson, the great motorsport journalist and a mentor in my early career, used to say, “The greatest driver in the world is a woodsman who livies in Siberia. The problem is, he’ll never find out and neither will we.”

DSJ’s point was that with motorsport being such a difficult sport to progress in, demanding of money and rare in opportunity, many people with great talent will never get to shine, while well funded youths of lesser talent have F1 careers.

Over recent years we have seen drivers coming from more diverse countries and the better organised new circuits like Singapore and Abu Dhabi have launched genuine programmes to encourage grass roots racing to support their F1 event and to find a driver to represent the country one day, which will develop the following in the country.


This weekend Force India F1 Team began its new initiative to find an Indian F1 driver. Called “One in a billion”, a reference to India’s population, the team is carrying out trials around the country to find a genuine talent, which it can encourage. The programme is backed by Exxon Mobil.

India has to date produced two F1 drivers, Narain Karthikeyan, who is currently in F1 with Hispania and Karun Chandhok, who did a few GPs with Hispania last season and is now reserve driver at Lotus. But neither has been able, or is likely, to get a front-running opportunity.

The first of seven karting trials is underway this weekend in Mumbai and over the next few weeks trials across India will give 14 to 17 year-olds the chance to show show their talent.

The best from each trial, a total of 100 kids, will reach the national finals in September. After that ten finalists will be chosen to come over to Silverstone for the grand finale. The plan is for the winners to be presented at the Indian GP in October.

The winner will be taken on for a minimum of three years, starting with a fully funded 2012 season in a competitive motorsport series in the UK. The runner up will have a similar package in India. The programme will take place every other year.

“If the Academy is able to place even one Indian on the F1 grid then all the effort would have been well worth it when our national anthem is played out for a victorious graduate of Academy,” said Force India boss Vijay Mallya.

It’s part of a wider ongoing programme to encourage motor sport in India. The Force India F1 Team Academy also aims to give vocational training for careers in motorsport other than driving – because not everyone can be a driver – and an educational programme, helping kids to get on the right course to acquire qualifications which can then be brought back into motorsports.

It’s a great idea and with a sports-mad country like India hosting its first F1 Grand Prix this October, interest in the sport in India is likely to take off.

F1 offers the country the chance to compete – and ultimately win hopefully – on a global level, something it can only do in selected Olympic sports and to a lesser extent cricket.

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49 Comments
  1. Rich In Norway says:

    I don’t understand what the problem is with Karun? Why can’t he get a decent drive? He’s an indian driver who has one foot in the door already, he seems intelligent. Am i missing something here?

    1. Rich C says:

      Perhaps that ‘intelligence’ has nothing to do with it?
      You have to exhibit ‘shoot out the lights’ talent to get ahead, and so far he hasn’t.

      1. Rich In Norway says:

        True. But he couldn’t really exhibit any ‘shoot out the lights talent’ in that Hispania as it was barely driveable. I know some of you will say look at what Senna did in the Toleman or what Alonso did in the Minardi but the Hispania looks a far worse car than those in my opinion…

      2. GoWebberGo(UNOC) says:

        True, but you have to look back on his history then and do your best to compare with teammates.

        Chandhok was invariably beaten by Senna. The only reason why he was ahead was because in Monaco more than half the field didn’t finish inlcuding Senna nd get got his 13th spot for not finishing either.

        Senna only started competitive racing back in 2002 or so and beat Chadhok in F1 and back in 2008 when they were both in GP2 (they weren’t bothin the same in 09). In 2008 Senna came 2nd and in the same car and same team as Chadhok smashed him with few years under his belt.

        Senna is a much better candidate for somene who should get a race seat.

        And then CHadhok isn’t exactly young.

        On the scale of thing, sure he COULD have done better in a slow driveable car rather than a medium slow under over under over over crash car.

        The problem is that their are so many drivers looking for seats… more drivers are coming in each year and only 1 has kinda-sorta-retired lately (Raikkonen) and 1 has come back from retirement (Schumacher).

        Hulkenberg, Senna, Kubica/Hidfeld, Ricciardo + all the new rookies for next year are all looking for drives.

        Chances are Chandhok isn’t out for good. Test and development driver in a good team might be his best bet combined with helping new Indian drivers. I’m guessing he has found that in Team Lotus

      3. The Banat says:

        I find it amusing that after you make yourself seem intelligent with your lecture, you throw it all away by including Kubica and Heidfeld (take a look at their ages) as “rookies”. Sha,e.

      4. On the three occasions where both Hispanias finished during Karun’s tenure (Malaysia, China and Europe), he always beat Bruno by at least 2 places. Bruno may have been a better qualifier but Karun was faster in the races, and points aren’t given out on a Saturday.

        Though given that even midfielder teams require substantial backing from their “second drivers” to function, it’s clear that money has become more important now to get into F1 than at any time since the mid-1990s.

      5. UnThisIsGettingReallyAnoyingOC says:

        Ok… thought I would get back to this.
        I wrote a long message but the message deleted itself before posting….

        Banat, I don’t know if your being sarcastic and if you see anything worthwhile in my post or are just misreading my comment and then commenting on that.

        My 3rd last para stated that there are so many drivers with a foot in the door with lots of experience and aren’t exactly lacking in speed that new rookies aren’t standing a chance without money.

        I then list several drivers who have experience who should get a drive before people with no experience
        Hulkenberg – GP2 champion
        Senna – GP2 runner up and only been racing for well less than a decade, improving constantly and very commited (focusing on F1 this year as a reserve)
        Kubica/Hidfeld – whoever you count as out, one will be at the end of this year and will want a seat with about the same pace a years of knowledge
        Ricciardo – Red Bull’s golden boy.

        Alianora La Canta, If you followed his career then you know the situation.
        1) He has only been back racing for a short time and is constantly improving much more than others
        2) He is a GP2 runner up and in that year was teammates with Chandhok whom he smashed in equal machinery and in the same team
        3) Chandhok was a pay driver Senna was signed prior to Kolles’ rule. Senna’s car was not up to the sister car in equipment terms. Including the sister car (chandhok/klien) getting things like a faster gearbox while Senna didn’t. Senna also got a heavier chassis while Chandhok/Klien got the lighter one. Senna didn’t rbing money for each race while Chandhok was able to.

        Senna is the much better driver IMNSHO.

    2. , says:

      Don’t wanna be too harsh on Karun, seems like a really nice chap, but what he did In Melbourne a few corners into the lap, describes his talents perfectly.

      He is one of those that got there mainly thanks to his backing, not his talent.

  2. kowalsky says:

    if redbull found vettel, they can do it as well. We’ll see in 10 years what they can come up with.

    1. Jack says:

      that doesn’t really make any sense at all. Germany has a slightly richer racing heritage than India. When Vettel was growing up a German was winning pretty much every single race

  3. Mark Vincent says:

    James, it’s great to see Jenks getting a name-check – hopefully it will lead to new converts to his writing, in my view the greatest writer of motorsport (present compnay excepted of course). His reports of the 1955 Mille Miglia (read some years after the event) led to me taking an over greater interest in the sport.
    It’ll be interesting to see how the FI scheme progresses, its good news that they are looking at the long-game.

      1. terryshep says:

        Remember those great articles about rattling round Europe in his Porsche? Loved them.

        I also remember someone, maybe Stirling, mentioning that he saw a spider crawl out of Jenk’s beard one day! Happy memories, those Motor Sport articles were priceless – and I’ve still got a lot of them.

  4. James, considering a lot of kids that make it to F1 start up when they’re 5 years old, do you really think gaging someone’s talent between 14-17 years old will really help them become an F1 winner? I think they need to start earlier

    It’s still a good start though and good for F1 to open up to such a MASSIVE market! Hopefully we can have some Pakistanis filtering too!

    1. Chris says:

      Exactly. The 14 year old kids who make it though to the latter stages will be those with existing karting experience.

      And especially in a country so divided as India, who would actually put a bet on someone from a lower caste making it through? Doubtful.

      Opportunities in all sports, not just F1, are dominated by parental money AND persuasion. Without either, you can’t succeed.

      Driver success has more to do with parental power than anything else. Don’t have the right parents? Then you can forget about F1.

    2. James D says:

      Petrov started racing at the age of 17 in Ladas!

      1. Tiago Monteiro started at 20 after finding his way into the sport during the second year of his degree. Granted that he wasn’t as successful in F1 as Vitaly has already been, but he still held his own against Narain Karthikeyan, who started young enough that he would surely have shone in this sort of karting challenge had it existed when he was 14…

  5. Barry says:

    This is a great initiative by Force India F1. As you say its not all about driving either – as the industry grows it will need mechanics, engineers, designers, marshals, officials, marketing people, etc.

    I believe it very important that any country that adopts F1 (that doesnt have an established motor racing scene) should also be obliged to support or initiate such targetted Academy programmes.

    Interesting that the ASNs in these countries don’t seem to have a remit / budget to do so and its left to chance. Surely the FIA would benefit hugely by providing a budget to these fledgling ASNs to help fastrack growth of the sport?

  6. Rich C says:

    Sounds like a good start! Hisham is right but they have to start somewhere.

    SO at any one time they plan on having 6 ‘kids’ on ‘staff’ and a minimum of 2 fully-funded drives? Going to be expensive!

  7. duest says:

    It turns out Denis Jenkinson was wrong. The greatest driver in the world is a 28 year old engineer, living in Adelaide South Australia, who reads James Allen on F1… ;)

    1. James Allen says:

      Trouble is he’ll never find out and neither will we!!

    2. thatscienceguy says:

      oh thanks mate! I’m glad someone else recognises my talent!

    3. David Turnedge says:

      Odd, I thought it was *me* and I’d missed my chance…

    4. Davexxx says:

      No, I’M Spartacus!

  8. seth1066 says:

    For every Clapton found, you need 100,000 kids banging on a guitar.

    1. True. Also some of those kids need to be professional-quality themselves – strong talents become stronger by pitting themselves against those who are around the same quality of talent as themselves.

  9. Adam Taylor says:

    brilliant idea. There has been similar schemes in the UK with ‘Who wants to be a grand prix driver?’ but nothing that know has come of it. But surely one of the many british based :p teams can come up with something similar

  10. Tom Johnson says:

    What a great idea, I’m sure it’ll succeed. Local heroes are what F1 need, I mean 6/7 German drivers is too many when they can’t even fill the stands at their own Grand Prix. Just imagine no more than two drivers from any competing nation that would free up seats for say China Turkey Hungary etc find a talented articulate charismatic kid from these countries, someone like Hamilton, and rather than empty seats the world’s circuits would throb with spectators.

    As for Denis Jenkinson’s point I find that pretty meaningless. F1 is a sport for the elite, only two dozen guys can compete and to do that they need to make life go right it’s just as difficult to enter the EPL or NBA the challanges might be a little different but the fact remains you need to make life go right. Life aint fair, so what. I read Mark Hughes’ book on Hamilton: here’s a kid that started out in a council flat on a grotty Estate in Stevenage broken home, ethnic minority, hardly auspicious beginnings for a career in F1 but this guy and his dad made it happen his journey every bit as difficult as any Siberian backwoodsman’s would be you just got to make it happen, don’t feel sorry for yourself – simples.

    1. Chris says:

      Hamilton would be NOWHERE without his father’s determination.

      I also don’t think you’re right to point out his ethnic minority status as being a disadvantage. I think it was probably an advantage in helping him land the McLaren sponsorship.

      1. Tom Johnson says:

        You must know something that Ron Dennis doesn’t then. He’s on record as saying Hamilton’s ethnicity had nothing whatsoever to do with Mclaren offering him contracts at any point in his career. Of course his father’s determination was significant in his son’s success but the boy still needed the talent focus and determination to make it happen. The point is that his hurdles were the equal of any kid Jenkinson puts up for offer, just different.

  11. Ben G says:

    That’s a great Jenks quote.

  12. Peter says:

    LOVE that Denis Jenkinson quote James. It is so perfect.

  13. S Quilter says:

    Hi James,
    I know its off topic but can you address the issue of Bahrain in the future of F1 as I would love to hear your views.

    It seems that Bernie Ecclestone wants a GP there despite the ruling family’s abuse of human rights in the state.

    It would be interesting to see what people think and how the teams would react to public opinion?

  14. Paul says:

    And what about the rest of the “one in a billion’s” team?

  15. Ravi says:

    India and F1 sounds very good on paper but honestly the one in the billion is good as a marketing campaign but in reality hardly less than 100 people actively kart in India!!! Being from Madras India, the city which has traditionally been home of motoracing and is the capital of the state which has produced both NK and KC, I would rather go for Singapore GP than the Indian GP!!!

    Knowing how sports is organized in India, the Indian GP will be there but then despite spending millions on infrastructure generally the organizers always forget about the fans who turn out for the races and have very poor facilities. Case point BCCI, the countries cricket board is the richest board in the world yet go to any Indian stadium barring the highly expensive box seats all other facilities are so poor that a third world country like Zimbabwe would shame us.

    F1 in India is not actually popular and it is popular among a few thousands who live in the major cities. Most of the crowd you will see in Delhi will be people who think its cool and hep to go for a F1 race rather than actual fans! Indian GP will go the Turkey way unless the organizers price tickets properly and ensure proper transportation facilities are provided. The track is some 40 km away from the airport!!!

  16. Kev says:

    Very excited with the project. Hope we find and properly groom the driver to compete in F1 and it would be even more wonderful if he drives a Force India F1 car to victory.

    Hoping to make the Indian GP this time. Will you be there James?

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been to India twice before and loved it

  17. Olivier says:

    “Slumdog Billionaire” shoud be the name of the movie/documentary.

    It is odd that they have allready selected 100 candidates out of 1 billion people? Are there any female hopefuls selected?

    1. They’ve only selected 14 so far (the 100 James cited will be the 14 best from each of the 7 trials, one of which has happened, and 2 “wild cards”). I don’t think any female drivers got through into the first 14 in the first trial, but there’s 6 more to go, so who knows how things will turn out?

  18. Anonymous says:

    There are a few young Indian drivers who have been trying to race in Europe and already Present in single seaters. There are a few racing in F2 and one in formula renault in the UK. Maybe a bit of support from India for them would be helpful and having them on board as they are already racing and got there with not much support especially the one in Renault.

    1. Subhash Gandhi says:

      Good to know that…!!

  19. Dave Hunt says:

    On a different topic: Sunday 1st May today. 17 years since we lost Roland and Ayrton. R.I.P. both of you.

  20. Harvey Yates says:

    Jenks was an inspiration. His European Correspondent column was the highlight of Motor Sport.

    The greatest driver in the world is not, though, a man in Siberia, or come to that a man anywhere other than in F1, or at the very least in motorsport.

    You need to be coached and from an early age to beat the best nowadays. If you come into the sport as a man you’ve missed fulfilling your potential.

    Michael Schumacher once criticised Damon Hill (I know it was more than once) for not coming up through karts. Two wheels, according to MSc, limited Hill’s potential. Although it was probably a bit of sledging, or even mainly, thee is more than a grain of truth in what he said.

    Our Siberian is in one of the Traps: he’s missed his opportunity. Mind you, his four year old child, now he might be the best in the world if only he lived near a kart track.

  21. Oliver says:

    James,

    Any chance of a piece on the importance of qualifying now, and whether we will see many teams sacrificing q3 runs or just doing the one run in order to save more tyres?

    Cheers

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, one planned

  22. Nil says:

    Can you give us more details on the event James? Is it a few laps dash with just one race per person or do the entrants have a series of races? The regulations book from the event website is thin on details after the initial qualification fastest lap criteria. It would be pointless to lose a Lewis Hamilton in the making because a first lap incident took the prodigy out with no second chances after the initial qualification.

    I’ve raced at the track in karting track in Mumbai where the event is being held. The equipment and its performance is highly inconsistent. The lap times of the participants will depend as much on their randomly drawn kart as on their talent.

  23. Subhash Gandhi says:

    Does anyone know how to register to this event??

  24. IM interested says:

    how can I partake?

  25. sanjiv says:

    i wana participate

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