Force India F1 boss Vijay Mallya has revealed that he intends to bring on talent from his homeland in the hope of one day being able to field an Indian driver at the Indian Grand Prix.
Speaking to journalists on the opening day of the European Grand Prix in Valencia, the billionaire team boss confirmed that plans to take F1 to India were progressing nicely, but that he continued to work on finding local talent to bring through to the top flight. Only two Indians, former Jordan pilot Narain Karthikeyan and current HRT rookie Karun Chandhok, have represented their homeland in F1, and Mallya is determined to ensure that there are more coming through the ranks in the future - even if it means setting up his own driving academy to take them on the journey.
"Let's be clear, motorsport is not [sufficiently] advanced in India, for a variety of reasons, to throw up drivers who would ultimately reach F1," he admitted, "We have drivers - Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandhok and a couple of others, Armaan [Ebrahim] and a boy called Patel - and they're talented drivers, [but] now I must decide whether they suit my requirements in Force India or not.
"I have been very fair, and I've given at least one of them the opportunity in the driving simulator. I put four drivers in and selected the best one of the lot, which happened to be Paul di Resta, so it isn't as if I've got a shut mind here. But I've got to start looking for somebody really young and, as I have said to you before, amongst 1.2 billion people there's got to be a Lewis Hamilton somewhere.
"It's like trying to pick a needle from a haystack, but we are now going to launch a nationwide programme in India to identify young talent. This is a pretty complex exercise, [and] involves several karting tracks all over the country, a whole organised method of getting people to enter, a competitive environment, a competitive programme. Then we will probably take those with exceptional talent, bring them to either England or Europe, pay for them, pay for their education, pay for their karting and literally mentor them through until they can sit in an F1 cockpit. We are absolutely committed to do that."
Asked whether he kept an eye on emerging talent in general, with di Resta plying his trade somewhat off the F1 radar in the DTM touring car series but benefiting from links to Force India's engine supplier, Mercedes, Mallya confirmed that he followed the various feeder series - before again insisting that he was happy with his current line-up of Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi
"I watch GP2 and, clearly, there are several drivers from GP2 who have graduated into F1, so that's obviously a pool that's available to choose from," he noted, "But, once again, I've got a pretty good line-up of drivers now, and I'm quite happy with them. They're not at the end of their careers - in fact, they are at the prime of their careers - [and] I'd rather identify a good Indian going forward. But, if the need arises, then obviously GP2 or F3 is probably the most popular hunting ground, isn't it."
As for the Indian Grand Prix, Mallya insisted matters were progressing, having been reassured by a meeting with circuit designer Hermann Tilke in the Valencia paddock.
"A very substantial group, the JP Group, have got a huge tract of land and they are building Sport City, one element of which is the F1 track," he confirmed, "It is being designed by Mr Tilke, who I bumped into today. He said everything was 'on track'. We have also seen pictures, photographs, and there is some real progress, so now I can safely say that I am personally convinced that the track will be built. It will be completed and that there will be the inaugural grand prix next year."