Karun Chandhok's hopes of graduating to Formula 1 next year have taken a nosedive after Force India F1 chairman and team principal Dr Vijay Mallya spoke out against 'the drama about this Indian driver thing', arguing that none of his countrymen are presently good enough to make the grade in the top flight.
The sport's commercial rights chief executive Bernie Ecclestone initiated a lively debate recently when he contended that rather than promoting test and reserve driver Vitantonio Liuzzi, Mallya should instead have given GP2 star Chandhok a chance to prove his mettle at the highest level for the final five races of the 2009 campaign in place of the Ferrari-bound Giancarlo Fisichella [see separate story – click here
Mallya responded by agreeing to give Chandhok a run on his team's simulator – in company, it was later revealed, with former A1GP Champion Neel Jani – but it is clear that the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire remains unconvinced that his young compatriot will impress.
The 25-year-old produced some eye-catching lap times during his only previous F1 test for Red Bull Racing at Barcelona in late 2007 – lapping within seven tenths of a second of RBR regular and 13-time grand prix-winner David Coulthard – but he took the chequered flag just 19th and twelfth in his two most recent GP2 outings for ORT at Monza, on a weekend when Mallya claimed he had been inundated with contact from drivers and managers enquiring about future possibilities with the rapidly-improving Silverstone-based squad [see separate story – click here
“My job is to make sure that the team is successful,” the 53-year-old told PTI
, admitting that he could not understand just why there is so much pressure upon him to take on a driver he describes as being almost like a son to him. “Whichever driver I need, that is completely my decision. I want someone to convince me and justify the drama about this Indian driver thing. The fact remains [that] right now no Indian driver is good enough for Formula 1.
“Force India carries the hope of a billion, and I too would love to have an Indian driver but he must be good enough. There is no rule – even though some people propagate otherwise – that you have to have a driver of a particular nationality. We need only the best drivers to get the maximum performance.
“First and foremost, FIA rules say a driver must finish among the top three in the GP2 championship before he becomes eligible for an F1 super-licence. Now, if the FIA would like to make an exception for Karun, that's their business, not mine.
“I told Karun clearly that he needs to win some GP2 races and give me the confidence that he is up to the mark. If he doesn't achieve that – he tells me his GP2 car is not good enough – he has to go through the simulator and prove how good he is with the F1 car.”
Chandhok is understood to have joked that the simulator is something more akin to a glorious toy rather than a bona fide
F1 test, but Mallya – whose team has become increasingly courted in recent weeks as the performance of the Mercedes-powered VJM02 has sky-rocketed – suggested that the man from Chennai should grasp any opportunity he is given.