Chandhok eyes F1 return in crowded driver market

Abu Dhabi: Karun Chandhok will test with GP2 teams in Abu Dhabi this weekend while still hoping for a return to Formula One next year in time for his country`s first grand prix.

The 26-year-old, who made 10 starts for the struggling Hispania (HRT) F1 team this year, said he was hopeful of securing a place without mentioning any interested parties.

"My goal for next year as I`ve said before is still firmly to be in Formula One and negotiations for a drive in the 2011 F1 World Championship are progressing in the right way," he said in a statement on Friday.

"So hopefully we`ll have a final programme in place before the F1 world shuts for Christmas."

Chandhok tested a GP2 car in France last week but said the Abu Dhabi outing was a good chance to learn a new circuit and be race ready for 2011.

Force India and Lotus, yet to confirm their line-ups, could be targets but competition for places is intense with teams increasingly looking for drivers to bring sponsorship.

Oil Money

Austrian Christian Klien, who also raced for HRT this year and is looking for a seat, suggested the sport`s increasing embrace of the emerging economies was being reflected in the driver market.

"Some time ago your best chance to get a drive in Formula One was when you were British, French or Italian," he said on his website.

"Nowadays the number of cockpits has hardly increased compared to 10 or 20 years ago but drivers are coming in from all areas of the world: Russia, India, South East Asia, soon probably Korea and China.

"Whoever has a government, an oil company or a mobile phone group from a rising country behind him has the best chance to be on the grid in 2011," added Klien.

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, this year`s GP2 champion who tested for Williams and HRT last week, is backed by his country`s state oil company PDVSA and is expected to join Williams as replacement for highly-rated German Nico Hulkenberg.

Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov, who helped Red Bull`s Sebastian Vettel win this year`s title by keeping Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso behind him for 40 laps, is a key to the merry-go-round.

Everything is likely to slot into place once Renault announce whether he is staying or leaving, although there are clear signs that Russia`s first F1 driver will be retained.

Russia is building up to a grand prix in Sochi in 2014 and Petrov has already attracted several national sponsors, while fledgling Russian sportscar maker Marussia have taken over as Virgin Racing`s title backers.

"It is more positive for Vitaly than negative, so there is less chance for them (other drivers)," Renault team boss Eric Boullier said after this month`s Abu Dhabi season-ender.

Those still searching for a home include Vettel`s fellow-Germans Nick Heidfeld and Hulkenberg, released by Williams despite taking their first pole position for five years in Brazil this month.

Force India are likely to retain Germany`s Adrian Sutil, who has solid sponsorship, but also have promising Briton Paul di Resta pushing for a race drive and Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi under contract.

Virgin have yet to announce their drivers.

Bureau Report

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