If Karun Chandhok thought that his promised run in an F1 simulator for Force India would help cement him as favourite to join the team's 2010 line-up, he will have to reconsider after team boss Vijay Mallya added former GP2 rival Neel Jani to the test roster.
With the team's Italian Grand Prix performance underlining its late-season ascent to the role of contender, Mallya admitted that he had been fielding more interest in drives for next season, but admitted that Monza pairing Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi remained in pole position to occupy the race seats. Despite that, however, he conceded that it had always been an ambition to give Chandhok a shot at F1, while former Toro Rosso reserve Jani's Indian links had seen him heading a queue to join the team since its inception nearly two years ago.
"After Spa, I have had at least ten drivers and agents who have come to me, including some pretty well known F1 drivers," Mallya revealed to Reuters
, "but Karun is like a son to me - I have known him from when he was a little boy in shorts so, if I can give him a chance, I'd be delighted. But he has to prove that he is also capable, so I've told him I'll put him in the McLaren driver simulator and let me see what you do. And based on that we'll talk further.
"Jani and his dad have been after me for the last one-and-a-half years and he came to see me again recently. The guy is saying give me a chance, and I can't deny him a chance in the simulator so, yes, he will also go in."
Mallya was criticised for not drafting in Chandhok when Italian Giancarlo Fisichella defected to his 'dream ride' at Ferrari but, with little to show for his years of racing, Mallya insisted that he could not just make decisions based on nationality [see story here
]. As a result, he opted for test and reserve driver Liuzzi to partner Sutil for the remainder of the season - and probably for 2010 - based on his experience and, after Monza, his performance.
"I have been very clear in my mind," Mallya explained, "I'm not a big team - I'm a very small team, probably with the tiniest budget. I need to have people who can help deliver my objectives. I can't afford any luxuries. I desperately need performance. We are slogging to make that better, we have achieved that and now we need the drivers to perform. I cannot be lenient in any way.
"[Sutil and Liuzzi] are loyal and hard-working. They are with the team and part of the team, they are doing their best. Unless I have some compelling reason to change, I ask myself 'why should I?'. As of now, I am very happy with what I have and the only role open is a test driver role and we'll see where we go from there."