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.