Mallya hits back over lack of Indian driver

London: Indian Formula One fans should be proud of their own team rather than bemoaning the lack of homegrown talent on the starting grid, Force India`s flamboyant owner Vijay Mallya has said.

"To be criticised, largely by the Indian folks, that I don`t have an Indian driver is I think just blatantly unfair," he said.

"My only response to them would be that I know more about Formula One than they do. “

"As far as the existing Indian drivers in Formula One are concerned, I can only feel very sorry for them. They are getting drives by the teams who clearly can`t compete...," added Mallya, whose current drivers are German Adrian Sutil and Britain`s Paul Di Resta.

In Turkey last May there were, for the first time, two Indian drivers out on track together in Friday practice but Sunday`s British Grand Prix starting grid at Silverstone had none.

Narain Karthikeyan was dropped by Hispania to make way for Red Bull-backed Australian debutant Daniel Ricciardo, although the Indian should be back for his country`s inaugural grand prix in Delhi at the end of October.

Karun Chandhok, racing with Hispania last season, is now reduced to occasional Friday drives as a reserve for Team Lotus.

"If that`s what they want to do, drive a Formula One car for the sake of driving a Formula One car and winding up at the back, I can`t do anything about it," said Mallya.

"There has got to be good, raw talent in India and I am determined to go find it."

Mallya pointed out that British Grand Prix winners Ferrari, the most successful team in Formula One and the pride of Italy, had not had a regular Italian driver for years.

The last Italian to win the Formula One title was Alberto Ascari in 1953.

"If Ferrari is on the podium, the whole of Italy applauds. If Ferrari wins a race, the whole of Italy celebrates. Nobody ever asks the question of where is the Italian driver?" said Mallya.

"Why suddenly in India? Be thankful for the fact you have an Indian team, sporting the Indian colours on the grid to begin with. The Indian driver will follow but let`s not put the cart before the horse."

The liquor and airline billionaire has launched a `one in a billion` hunt to find an untapped talent that could be India`s answer to McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton.

Using karting circuits across India, the search was initially restricted to children between the ages of 14 and 17 but has since been widened.

The prize at stake for the best three or four is a move to Silverstone, where the Force India factory is based, to continue their education on and off the track.

"We want to actually create a proper Indian Formula One driver," Mallya had said earlier in the year.

"What we are talking about is to have a structured programme much like McLaren did with Lewis and hopefully create a young, talented Indian driver capable of performing and getting into Formula One."

That will take considerable time, and until then Mallya defended his achievements in turning a failing team - first Jordan then Midland and then Spyker before he became the owner and changed the name again -- into one capable of finishing on the podium and starting on pole position.

"I have been involved in Indian motorsport for over 30 years. I have done whatever I could reasonably to promote the sport in India," he said.

"And I take some credit for the fact that I put an Indian Formula One team on the grid, which nobody believed could ever have happened. “

"I think there will be explosive growth in the popularity of Formula One after the Indian Grand Prix. So I have done my job for my country, for the hundreds of millions of young, aspirational Indians in terms of Formula One."

Bureau Report

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