Narain Karthikeyan has hit back at claims that he is no longer good enough to represent India on the Formula One grid by claiming that he has no interest in driving for another back-of-the-grid team.

The former Jordan pilot was reacting to suggestions from Force India team boss, and fellow countryman, Dr Vijay Mallya, that neither he or current F1 aspirant Karun Chandhok were of sufficient calibre to make the top flight ahead of current FIF1 drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil, who were reconfirmed by Mallya's outfit last week.

Both Karthikeyan and Chandhok have repeatedly been linked to possible roles with Force India since it took over the reins of the former Spyker team in 2008, but Mallya has been dismissive of their abilities, and has vowed to search lower down the racing ladder in the hope of unearthing India's answer to Lewis Hamilton.

"In my F1 context, [Karthikeyan] doesn't fit in," he told the Hindustan Times recently, "[Chandhok] is like my son, but I have not broken the professional rules of Force India F1 and announced in respect of Karun only because of my personal relationship."

"The team is totally professional - whatever the team needs is going to be done, simple and straightforward. There is no compulsion to put an Indian driver for the sake of putting an Indian driver. On the contrary, I would love to have an Indian driver.

"In 2009, we are going to launch a comprehensive programme of driver identification and where we see youngsters with talent, Force India is going to pay all the way through to international karting, single-seater racing, GP2 and on to Formula One. I don't think [Indian Motorsport Federation] FMSCI should concentrate on creating an F1 driver. FMSCI should concentrate on broad basing motorsports in this country. [Making an] F1 driver is my job as Force India F1."

Karthikeyan, however, responded to Mallya's apparent dismissal of his talent by claiming that he was never interested in joining Force India.

"I spent a frustrating time with Jordan, where I had a car that just could not perform, [while] Spyker offered me a drive in August 2007, but I declined as the team was going nowhere," he noted, "I have no desire to be with another pedestrian team that's low on performance and loud on talk. I never even approached Mallya. The vibes from the camp have been extremely negative and I want to make it clear that I am not interested in driving for Force India."

Karthikeyan has most recently been driving for his homeland in the A1 Grand Prix series, winning races in 2007-08, and acted as test driver for the Williams team for two seasons. Chandhok, meanwhile, has been inching closer to a possible F1 role with wins in the GP2 Series with Durango and iSport International, and has the backing of Red Bull, but now appears to be off Mallya's radar, despite their respective families having close ties.

Mallya's views, however, have also received adverse reaction from others involved in the top flight, with many suggesting that his assessment of both Karthikeyan and Chandhok is wide of the mark.

"A non-grand prix driver cannot give an opinion as to a driver's abilities," double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi commented, "When Narain drove in F1, he did not have a competitive chassis or technical package. He's capable of winning GPs in a good car."

F1 commercial guru Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, suggests that Chandhok ought to be India's next representative on the grand prix grid, particularly with an Indian GP on the horizon.

"The time is getting closer for F1 to be in India, which is something I am really enthusiastic about - and, hopefully, Karun will be part of it," he stressed, "His place is in F1."

Respective team-mates, including Tiago Monteiro and Bruno Senna, both gave positive assessments of the talent possessed by Karthikeyan and Chandhok, but it remains to be seen whether either will appear in the top flight, with Force India or elsewhere.

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