Karun Chandhok has admitted that he was 'disappointed' to have been overlooked for a Formula 1 role in 2009, but insists that he remains fully focussed on his 'dream' of being on the starting grid for the first-ever Indian Grand Prix in two years' time.

Given his family's close links with Force India F1 chairman and managing director Vijay Mallya, and two promising seasons in the GP2 Series feeder category, many assumed that Chandhok would be a shoe-in for either a race seat or at the very least a testing position with the Silverstone-based squad this year, but with Mallya electing to retain his 2008 line-up in its entirety, there was no room at the inn for the man from Chennai.

Whilst that inevitably came as a source of frustration for a young driver desperate for the chance to prove his mettle at the very highest level - having already impressed mightily during a test outing for Red Bull Racing at Barcelona in late 2007, lapping just three tenths of a second shy of 13-time grand prix-winner David Coulthard - Chandhok is phlegmatic about the way things turned out.

Pointing to the severe testing restrictions that have been brought into force in the top flight for this season, the 25-year-old added that he may have stood a better chance of promotion had he enjoyed a better second half of his GP2 campaign with iSport International last year - one that saw him fail to trouble the scorers for the final seven races in succession, due to a run of chronic ill-fortune.

"I'm a little bit disappointed, of course," he reflected, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio. "Everybody wants to be in Formula 1 - that's the dream - but if you look at the grid in F1, it's very young at the moment. At the end of the day, guys have to come out for new guys to go in.

"The only driver who has gone in is [S?bastien] Buemi, and he was destined to be there anyway; it was almost pre-decided by Red Bull that he would be in F1 this year, so that wasn't a great surprise. Okay, possibly Bruno [Senna - 2008 iSport team-mate] might go to Honda if it happens, but right now Buemi is the only one who has gone in.

"It's not an easy situation at the moment to get into F1, and as for a test driving role, they've changed the regulations, so what really is the role of a test driver anymore? I think if we sit down in October or November and tot up the number of days a test driver has done, it will probably be only two or three days.

"I can understand why they've changed the regulations, because it's part of the cost-cutting thing which is good for the teams, but it's crap for the test drivers and young drivers like myself. It's not an easy time.

"Vijay's got two drivers under contract for this year, and if I'm perfectly honest about it, in the second half of my season last year we had so much bad luck, with seven races in a row where we didn't score any points and we plummeted from fourth or fifth in the championship on Saturday night in Budapest to tenth at the end of the year.

"Out of those seven races, five of them were nothing to do with me - they were mechanical problems or people driving into the back of me. I think if we had carried on the momentum into the second half, maybe I'd have had a stronger case to argue, I don't know. I'll do GP2 again this year, and then we'll sit down and talk about it again in a few months' time."

Though Mallya suggested at the launch of the new Force India VJM02 at the weekend that he intends to 'keep looking for Indian talent' and that the time is 'not right' for the team to run a home-grown driver at present - tending to imply that in his opinion Chandhok doesn't make the grade - the former British F3 ace clearly bears no rancour towards the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire.

What's more, he cautiously agrees with the view of retired RBR ace-cum-BBC F1 commentator David Coulthard that the traditional tail-enders could be set to make a significant leap up the grid this year [see separate story - click here].

"Let's see how the tests go," he remarked. "I think they're going to be more competitive than before, for sure. From what I know, their deal with McLaren is quite comprehensive, and it's far more beneficial to them than the deal with Ferrari was from before, so they should be more competitive, but I think F1 today from the testing times looks super-competitive anyway. It's very hard to pick who's actually quick and who isn't."

It is clear that Chandhok has far from given up on his ambition of becoming only the second driver from his country - following in the wheeltracks of trail-blazer Narain Karthikeyan, who competed for Jordan Grand Prix back in 2005 - to grace the F1 grid. More than just that, with an Indian Grand Prix in the pipeline for 2011, he wants to be the driver fans are cheering for in Delhi.

"It will be fantastic," enthused the inaugural Formula Asia V6 by Renault Champion. "A lot of people in India have never seen Formula 1 live, and I think all of us who have seen it live know the difference between watching on the telly and actually sitting in the grandstand.

"All of us remember the first time we saw a Formula 1 car, so it's something that I think a lot of people are looking forward to at the moment. It's a mega event, and I've seen some of the plans and I know the promoters behind it. Even in today's crisis, they're still willing to pump money into the project - so hats off to them.

"I certainly hope to be on the grid! To be the Indian driver in the Indian Grand Prix - and hopefully in a competitive position to have a result - would be a dream come true."




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