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Force India to choose “One in a Billion driver” next week
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Darren Heath
Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Oct 2011   |  9:54 am GMT  |  35 comments

Earlier this year I wrote a post about Force India’s initiative to try to find a driver from India whom they could develop – they call it the “One in a Billion” search. I was reminded of this yesterday when Force India announced the deal with Sahara.

There were seven karting trials across India giving 14 to 17 year-olds the chance to show show their talent.

The best from each trial, a total of 100 kids, reached the national finals in September. Now ten finalists have been chosen to come over to Silverstone next week for the grand finale. The plan is for the winner to be presented at the Indian GP in October by Force India boss Vijay Mallya.

The winner will be taken on by the team 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 Mallya at the launch.

With yesterday’s news that the team has taken on a powerful new shareholder in the form of Sahara, this project has some more impetus behind it.

Next week’s final will be held over four days with karting evaluation, Porsche human performance evaluation, media training and final driver assessment.

The Silverstone finals take place next week from 18 – 21 October based around the schedule below.

There is a high powered panel of judges including Nico Hulkenberg, Anthony Hamilton, Bob Fernley and Eddie Jordan. Fernley is the driving force behind the project, while Hulkenberg has been involved at all the various stages along the way.

The best way to grow the sport in a country is undoubtedly to have a local driver. But everyone recognises that having a driver of a specific nationality in an F1 car isn’t enough in itself. It only works if you have a driver who does well, as with Alonso in Spain or Schumacher in Germany. This was the problem for Toyota and Honda with Japanese drivers and has been the issue for American drivers coming into F1.

The One in a Billion initiative is as good a way as any to find a driver with the talent and hunger to succeed in F1.

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35 Comments
  1. wayne says:

    Isn’t there already a fully matured Indian driver with F1 experience ready and waiting for a F1 seat? Or is there not enough PR value for VJ in taking the path of least resistence?

    1. Ross says:

      I think he’s waiting on a good driver, not a nice guy. People tend to get that confused.

      1. wayne says:

        Where is the evidence that KC is not a ‘good’ driver? Rather dismissive of a driver with F1 experieince don’t you think?

      2. Ross says:

        You can tackle this from a number of angles, His Pre F1 record was average at best. He did nothing to stick out from what was a rather average GP2 season. Admittedly Koybashi has shown that good GP2 form is not essential to shine in F1 but I would consider him an exception to the rule.

        I would suggest that Karun Chandhok got into F1 simply because of his nationality and the sponsorship money that brought. There’s no crime in that. What’s interesting though is that Pasto Maldando won GP2 and brought Venezuelan money to his team but still gets stick for it whilst nice guy Karun is touted for every seat going by the British media.

        Let’s examine his brief F1 career, Outpaced by a fellow rookie in qualifying at HRT then dumped for a journeyman because his money ran out. Tony Fernandes is also keen to get an Asian driver in his team but deemed Chandrok not good enough to replace the ever declining Jarno Trulli and hired him as the reserve driver. In fact it was reported last week that they may not even put him in for the Indian GP. Rendering the whole point of his employment pointless. If Team Lotus thought he was up to doing a similar job to midfield calibre drivers they have now he would have been already been in that second Lotus car from Germany onwards.

        Force India have one very solid driver in Sutil, A star of the future in Di Resta not to mention a very promising Nico Hulkenburg as a reserve driver. Force India are an upwardly mobile midfield team. There will be a few very good drivers out of a drive next year. Why disregard proven talent for the sake on having an Indian driver in a Indian team? As James pointed out it’s all about having a winning driver and it’s not going to be him.

        Karun Chandhok is a very likable, intelligent guy who is well worth listening when he is offering his views on F1. That doesn’t mean you can disregard his abilities as a driver.

    2. As you said says:

      Actually there are two. If VJM really wanted to raise profile of F1 in the country with 25Million F1 fans, he could have chosen to let both Indian drivers grow with the team.

      Karthikeyan was a handy driver when he lost his F1 drive due to lack of funds the then Midland-Spyker team wanted. He was much closer to F1 in 2007 when Mallya took over the team.

      I am under no illusion that Narain and Karun are F1 champion materials but then so was the Mallya’s FI car for so many years.

      While Narain and Karun drifted away and away from F1, Mallya chose to flounder his funds on Sutil-Fisichella-Liuzzi
      Who at their best gave one fluke podium and two “almost” performances between 2008-2010.

      I am sure Narain would have delivered similar level of performances in those years. Not to mention all the mainstream business houses that have been loyal Narain sponsors all through his racing career would have funded Narain and Mallya would have saved lots of monies in his F1 venture.

      But Looks like nor did Mallya want to share spotlight with anybody on the F1 grid nor did he wanted any other mainstream Indian corporate presence on the car other than his own liquor brands….

      I am very sceptic about Mallya’s new partners and having seen lots of driver talent lose its fizz through the driver academy and jr formulae with changing fortunes of their sponsors, I am sceptic about this “One in the billion” endeavor. Of course it did meet Mallya’s short term goal of putting bigger Kingfisher billboards at the selection centers and promote sell of his beer…

      Narain and Karun through their backers are doing more serious work in promoting single seater racing IMO.

      Last I had heard Karun was putting together a Asian level single seater racing series using assets of now defunct Formula BMW Asia series.

      I am sure NK and KC will groom more Indian talents in near and distant future than some beer selling magnate…

  2. Alex W says:

    Great idea, hope they do find a guy in the agressive style of Hamilton rather than the clinical Vettel.
    The problem with finding talent in racing is that it is so expensive to start out, I think I have a talent, but even living in Australia couldn’t afford go karts let alone formula v, ford etc… I guess Force India will be selecting from a pool of hundreds rather than the hundeds of Millions. Would also be keen to see a female in the comp.

    1. As you said says:

      Ask Lewis to get back his old race engineer Phil Prew (who is currently working with Jenson) and most of Lewis’s woes will be solved.

      Vettel is more allround person than more other kids on the grid who are pretty single dimensional.

      Lewis did try to add more dimension through his “entertaining connections”, but that has proven more of hindrance than help. But then Jenson went through the same phase till 2009, only since 2010 he has finally fully matured. So as long as F1 insiders and media give Lewis a long end of stick we have hope for him.

      Else hound him and p1$$ his off and next thing we know he will be next to his senior version driving a Nascar :-(

      1. Alex W says:

        A new Indian government stat says if you earn more than 62 cents a day you are not on the poverty line…..

        If Hamilton becomes JPM… I might start watching nascar…

  3. Eamonn says:

    Unrelated James but F1 has two permanent race stewards. They don’t miss a race. David and Martin. I think that it’s brilliant that they are heard by race control. Really no need for inconsistent different ex driver every week. As long as they say impartial.

    1. ColinZeal says:

      Neither are particularly impartial to be fair.

      They are too friendly with some of the drivers, like Jenson for example.

      1. Brandon says:

        Theyre both very impartial regarding Michael Schumacher. Lol xD

      2. Knutty Boy says:

        DC not impartial !!!!!!!

        You are joking, of course….

        The only time DC is not blatantly bigging up Red Bull, is when he is singing the praises of his compatriot Di Resta.

  4. Rusty says:

    I’d suggest that for a country to really embrace F1 there needs to be the base levels of motorsport layed down. Touring Cars,the junior formulae, even down to stock car and banger racing. Can you hunger for something you’ve never had or seen?

    1. Tim Parry says:

      Excellent point. Does India have a ‘car’ culture? That may make the difference as to whether this program succeeds or fails.

      1. veeru says:

        india has car culture. it doesn’t have “racing” culture and the intent here is to bring that racing culture, let people think, talk about it, kids grow up like that wanting to become one.

        that is the point here. makes sense?

      2. As you said says:

        India had a strong rally car culture, with Narain and Karun’s families actively involved. its only last twenty odd years single seater racing has taken the lime-light.

        There are large number of motor enthusiasts in Metro cities around the country that still go around racing with their performance tuned cars.

        Its for nothing that Star Sports has reported steady growth of F1 viewership since they started airing F1 on satellite channels since the 90s. Currently there are 22-25 Million viewership for F1 on TV. Fan like me have been following F1 even through Print Media since the 80s. So rest assured there is culture of Motosports

        On back of completion of the F1 circuit there has been announcement of Indian Racing league which will be LMP style sportscar series

        http://i1superseries.com/index.html

        So there is more depth in India in motor sports arena than what westerners may think about.

        As far as F1 goes to make career in F1 is costly affair even for those growing in Europe. And again career path to F1 is now limited to WSR, GP2, GP3 series which are all Europe centric and getting a race seat in good team like ART is a costly venture for everybody out there so not all the the talent India has will end up in F1.

        F1 has been acting snobbish in recent years in its attitude towards Indy racing and Formula Nippon, so that makes things more difficult for Non-Brit, Non-European drivers with F1 aspirations. American drivers seems to have decided to focus their resources on their own continent and if indeed I1 racing league picks up I see similar thing happening in India, with Indian Subcontinent finding its own fix for for high octane sports.

        At this moment more than anytime F1 needs India than India needs F1.

        With success of Indian Premier League the Indian circus of cricket. Its just a matter of time smart marketeers in the sub-continent develop their own indigenous leagues (like those in the US) and given the amount of monies that Indian sponsor spend on hiring the overseas cricketers for their cricket circus, they can hire top overseas talent in their indigenous leagues in other sports as well.

  5. Rich In Norway says:

    Hello James!

    Sorry off topic. Any news on the BBC/Sky deal? Everyone is extremely quiet about it.

    Have you got any inside knowledge of whats going on…

    Thanks in advance,
    Rich

  6. Tom says:

    I’m surprised they are only going to pick one. Given the hyper competitiveness of the lower formulas, there is a good chance this one in a billion driver will never get advance much beyond karting.

    1. Baghetti says:

      two (winner and runner-up) every other year as I read it, so quite some inflow if they manage to keep the programme alive for a couple of (every other)years….

  7. Martin says:

    Talent spotting is an interesting one. Mark Webber’s comment to Cameron McConnville, a V8 driver in Australia before he got to drive the 2008 Honda, was “find the fastest kart you” to practice in as it would be the best thing for the reactions.

    Therefore if the karts are quick enough, it might be a better judge than F3 or Formula Ford cars. Some time in the simulator might be a good step too to confirm the drivers are comfortable with all the systems and have spare brain capacity.

    Whether any of this prevents the Sebastien Bourdais situation of the drive being behind the car (possibly ultimate neural speed) might not be known for a long time.

  8. Phil says:

    awesome!

    Drivers identified from grassroots, nutured, developed and elevated to higher series. F1 maybe. All as a result of their talent and not their sponsorship pot! We might just see 24 F1 drivers with the talent of Michael, Seb, Fernando, Lewis, Jenson & Kimi.

    Kudos to Vijay et al.

    1. As you said says:

      Phil – In my view, based on the time, effort, dedication, resources and miles and miles that every driver who embarks on the journey of single seater career puts in, by the time they reach F1 they are are in the same zip code of the Alonsos Michaels, Vettels and Lewises.

      Not all of them are blessed to have a Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes or Redbull to pay for their High Octane hobby, thats the only difference.

      Best example is Jenson Button, the guy didn’t even win the British Formula Three championship (something a Sato or Karthikeyan can boast of) and if his first 9 years have to be taken as reference point, the guy was not exactly setting the world on fire in the car that was designed to his liking every single season.

      It has taken so many years for him to mature into a good driver as he has been in last two years, but for every lucky Jenson there are many unlucky Trullis, Fisichellas and Christian Kliens :(

  9. audifan says:

    maybe bernie will do the same for the USA …think what a top american driver would do for F1 in the states

    1. ben says:

      I thought about it, and I decided I certainly hope this competition is not run there.

    2. Tom says:

      Alexander Rossi.

    3. Silverelise says:

      Formula X factor USA?

    4. As you said says:

      There are lots of brilliant drivers in the US. But path to F1 is now limited to only those series that are sponsored by Bernie and his chums in the confines of Europe like the F1, GP2, and GP3 ( and bit of World Series of Renault), so for any talented driver outside UK and Europe and his/her backers this is a huge huge commitment, with the return of investment next to none (given the biases F1ers have against those from out side a) UK and b) Europe in that order).

      If F1 was bit more open minded about IRL, Formula Nippon drivers as it was till the 90s I am sure there will be more interest from overseas drivers in F1.

      The way F1 has made itself exclusive ( not that it really is the best series in my view, just more hyped and marketed) US drivers and their sponsors want to spend their monies closer to home where there is more return of investment in form of recognition by the fans (who are also consumers of the good sold by sponsors).

      Carlos Slim who has/had stakes in Telefonica and is personal friend of Montoya was keen Renault to hire the Columbian after Alonso signed for McLaren. Carlos knew Columbian would be very identifiable to the Hispanic demographics of Telefonica. But Flavio chose to let telefonica go rather than work with Montoya ( I suspect the deals must have fell apart due to Flavio’s insistence for the renault drivers to retain him as their personal maanager).

      That JPM story was just to elaborate its not as if the drivers who are not driving in F1 or not focussing on F1 are less talented. Its just that F1 is a world of its own that is so very Europe centric, while it wants the overseas fans, sponsors to invest their time and monies in F1, it doesn’t really have any thing to offer, but for the intangible concept of “Pride of being associated with F1″.

      Another story that comes to mind is shared by Jo Ramirez in his autobiography. During the lean patch of McLaren on sponsor front, Jo through his contact had lined up a coffee manufacturer sponsor to meet Ron Dennis for Lunch.
      Ron barely made any conversation ( now we know where Kimi learned his skills) and didn’t host these potential sponsors well. The sponsors didn’t come through of course. When Jo confronted Ron, the response was “They should be honored to be associated with McLaren and F1″

      Same story was repeated when Nick Fry chose to let Super Aguri collapse rather allow Aguri Suzuki to work with the Indian Sponsors of Narain Karthikeyan and field Sato and Narain as team-mates.

      So don’t feel bad for American drivers, they are doing well for themselves where they are and don’t have anything to prove themselves by running in mid-field and back of the grid team in F1….

  10. malli says:

    nice post. thank u james

  11. Marc says:

    Finding and developing talent is a worthy cause. It should an integral part of the program of each and every f1 teams. Force india’s effort to find an Indian talent, seems a good goal. Would it truly be a grassroots winner or someone with already a wider racing background? we shall see. Over a longer span, once the goal of an Indian in top gun flight is reached. I hope their academy, widen its horizon to include not just Indian talent in the competition. Marc

    1. As you said says:

      The news is Karun Chandok and his sponsors JK tyres have acquired the now defunct BMW Asia series and working in tandem with Tony Fernanded to host a Formula-Asia series. That should surely help spot and groom lots of talented young drivers in Asia. But then again the question is whether those that will excel in this series again have to work through the F2-GP2-GP3 ladder and prove themselves to the Europeans or would they get direct shot at F1 tests like it used to happen with CART, Indy and Formula Nippon Drivers back in 90s.

      While those associated with F1 aspire to make monies from global sources when it comes to providing opportunities they have been more and more narrow minded in their approach in recent years.

      Drivers outside UK-Europe get stuck in low level teams in both feeder categories and then in F1 and only drivers from UK-Europe get shot at top teams in both Junior (and then in Senior category).

      So while tree of F1 is trying to spread its branches around the world, its not spreading its roots in that proportion.
      All this in-breeding can result only in extinction, but then Bernie doesn’t have to think beyond his life time and teams well they are happy with their false sense of “Global Reach”

  12. kowalsky says:

    i think it’s easier to say than to do. In reality it’s 1 in a 100.
    I hope they can find some talent. Talent it’s always welcome.

  13. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    The sport has become more specialised. It used to be that top drivers could swap between sports cars and formula cars. That brought in new blood. But these days that is no longer possible.

  14. Bollo says:

    Sorry to be the fun police here, and this is a lovely lofty idea but I don’t understand how wealthy indian business people can throw money at things like this to help a few of their countrymen/women when all they have to do is look down the street to see abject poverty hunger and misery of truckloads of their countrymen/women.

    The difference that the money (or effort as money is not always the answer) could make to so many people compared with what this may achieve is staggering and troubling.

    1. As you said says:

      By your logic, Mallya must shut down his F1 operations as well, what ever he is investing of F1 can at least give one dollar to 100 Million Indians who are fighting poverty.

      And to take this logic further in fact all the teams should shut down the F1 circus coz given the state of economy around the world, with European countries on brink of collapse, all the monies in F1 can be handy like bucket of water to douse the forest fire.

      In fact the very act of following organized sports by fans, organizers, sponsors around the world is criminal like Nero’s fiddling while Rome was burning.

      History will not pardon us for our combined negligence I guess.

  15. Tall and Powered Up says:

    I think Chandouk could be a great guy for Force India, the guy seems to know his stuff about F1 but like McLaren have their 2 brit drivers and im sure India would love to see Chandouk in Force India and besides that it will give Indian investors and the whole country to be vibed up about F1, we have seen how Kobayashi is mixing it with the best drivers. I also think again that with Chandock it can unlock many companies and other IT services etc to be part of the global Formula 1. Somehow i still think Formula 1 should rethink the view of testing as it is hurting upcoming drivers and to fine tune the cars.

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