Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan have responded to Vijay Mallya's criticism of them and dismissive claim that there are currently no Indian drivers good enough for his team in F1, by accusing him of not being in possession of 'the facts' and arguing that he is going about the whole process the wrong way.
Force India F1 owner Mallya asserted that he should not be lambasted for not running an Indian driver at the Silverstone-based squad, hinting that the present standard – or, to put it another way, Messrs. Chandhok and Karthikeyan – is not sufficiently high as to merit a seat there.
He revealed, moreover, that he 'feels very sorry' for his two countrymen who are 'getting drives by the teams who clearly can't compete' and doing so merely 'for the sake of driving an F1 car...and winding up at the back' [see separate story – click here
]. Both Chandhok and Karthikeyan have raced for tailenders Hispania Racing (HRT), in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Mallya went on to stress that 'there has got to be good, raw talent in India', adding that he is 'determined to go [and] find it' through his pioneering 'One in a Billion' initiative, by which he will endeavour to unearth an Indian Lewis Hamilton at karting circuits across the country. Chandhok suggests the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire is missing the point.
“I think it's a bit sad that in one breath the chairman of our Indian ASN (national sporting authority) is talking about how much he has done for Indian drivers, and then in the next breath he is criticising India's only two F1 drivers,” the current Team Lotus reserve – whose father Vicky is president of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India – told Reuters
. “If you are going to criticise people, at least do it with some facts. Having never tested either Narain or myself in one of his cars, he doesn't have the facts.
“I understand the need to find the next Indian star – and I use the word 'next', not 'first' – and the need to create more Indian F1 drivers, but you are not going to find the next Indian star by running events in single-engined, four-stroke rental karts on 400-metre tracks made out of concrete.”
Chandhok instead espoused the JK Tyre Rotax Max Challenge with which he is involved – “The Rotax karts are the same as used elsewhere in the world, you send drivers to the world final and that's where you are going to find the next generation of drivers,” he reasoned – and affirmed that personally, he is very content to be where he is, thank you very much.
“I am very happy to be in a team where the shareholders and the CEO are 100 per cent supportive, in a team where I feel 100 per cent wanted,” the 27-year-old fired back, in a pointed barb at his detractor. “I feel a long-term potential to build a truly Asian team, and I am very happy where I am.”
Midway through 2009, Mallya promised Chandhok a simulator try-out – an offer that never came to fruition – and he backed Karthikeyan in the latter's British F3 days, too. The former Jordan Grand Prix ace and Williams test-driver contends that just as Mexico had to wait 30 years for another F1 driver before Sergio Pérez arrived this season, so similarly might India find itself with a long fallow period once he and Chandhok have departed the scene – and to that end, he agrees that a bit of support right now wouldn't go amiss.
“Against all the odds, both of us have made it to F1,” remarked the 34-year-old, who has recently been dropped by Hispania in favour of Daniel Ricciardo, at least until October's inaugural Indian Grand Prix. “It doesn't matter who I drive for in the Indian Grand Prix; it's just a symbolic and historic moment, and one that can show aspiring young drivers what they can do with hard work and effort. The Tata Group is very supportive of what I do, and that's all that matters.”