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    Hunt for India's next F1 driver begins

    Bangalore: India's first Formula One team, Force India, on Tuesday announced the launch of 'Force India F1 Team Academy' and also a nation-wide hunt for the potential next Formula One driver from India.

    The Academy, a not-for-profit entity based in India, will be involved in identifying and nurturing young racing talent in the country between the ages of 14 and 17 over a five-year period by providing vocational training and specialised academic courses related to the field, Vijay Mallya, Chairman and Team Principal, Force India Formula One Team said here on Tuesday.

    "The Force India F1 team was conceived with a vision to inspire young Indians who have the talent but so far had no proper opportunity or serious platform to showcase their innate abilities", he said.

    "I hope this academy will give young Indians who have the necessary passion and drive, a serious chance to show promise and an opportunity to excel, so that we can develop their talent and grow it by channelling it properly over the long term," he added.

    Describing the setting up of the Academy as a "historic milestone" in the sports arena in India, he said, "it's the first-time ever anyone has embarked on such an ambitious programme to create a pool of talent and groom aspirants who show exceptional promise by providing the necessary corproate funding and support back with a crystal clear professional career path in motorsport so that one day, they can go on to represent India in the international arena".

    The Academy, which is being funded by Force India and supported by its corporate partners, will on April 25 launch the 'Hunt for F1 from a billion', which would focus on identifying racing talent via a karting programme organised in seven cities across the country, a Force India statement said.

    After the regional trials, 14 finalists would be selected from each city, and would proceed to the next level, it said.

    In September this year, 100 finalists would compete against each other to progress to the next level, it added.

    From October 3 to 8, 10 selected finalists from the national final would undergo a week-long initiative stint at Silverstone, UK, it said.

    The selected drivers would complete their Silverstone experience with a race in Formula Silverstone cars. At the end of the session, three winners would be selected and announced in India on October 11 around the time of the Indian Grand Prix, it said.

    The Indian GP will be held on October 30 at Greater Noida.

    The winner would go through a full season of racing in a competitive championship in the UK while the first runner-up will go through a full season of racing in a competitive championship in India and the third runner-up would receive special racing tuitions in an Asian racing school, it said.

    The Academy would "fully support" the winner over the next three years and a career path would be drawn out depending on the progress, the statement said.

    "The intention is to groom the winner through various stages leading up to a point where the winner is qualified and ready to apply for a super license from the FIA to drive in Formula One," Mallya said.

    Describing setting up of the academy and the talent hunt as a "treasured moment" in his sporting life, Mallya said he had been involved in Indian motorsport for over three decades.

    Going down memory lane, he said, "I fondly remember times when we used to build own home-made specials... it was a lot of fun."

    He also recollected the event in erstwhile Madras when there were bamboo stands and 70,000 people turned up. "The atmosphere was electrifying", he said.

    "Never did anyone involved in motorsport even think that we could ever have an Indian Formula 1 team," he said.

    "That has always been my vision, my dream," said Mallya, who established a JV to acquire Spyker Formula 1 team in October 2007 and renamed it Force India.

    He said he named it Force India as he wanted to share the national pride with all youngsters. "Not all understood the huge amount of technical research and cost associated with the sport. Here is a sport where you are fighting for one hundreth of a second," he said on its competitiveness.

    He said he was confident that Force India would slowly begin scoring points and do extremely well in the coming race.

    "We are working hard, very hard in fact 24x7 to ensure we rapidly install updates on the car," which he hoped would make a huge difference to performance. "We are on the right track."

    The UB group chairman said he has often been criticised for not having an Indian driver, but pointed out there is no country as passionate about motorsport as Italy and wondered whether where the Italian drivers are in Ferrari cars.

    "I can name many teams that don't necessarily put in the nationality of their own into the driving seat. But I am determined that one day I will. From the 1.2 billion people there is a Lewis Hamilton somewhere and we will find him."

    "We have waited for two and half decades to win the World Cup for the second time, it is worth a wait to produce an Indian Formula 1 champion in the world," he said.

    On whether, the initiative of promoting Formula 1 had received state support, he said they did not intend to seek funding but only looked forward to government support and acknowledgement of its work in true sense.

    On how he planned to get parents to encourage children to take to motorsport as career in a country obsessed with professions like IT and medical, Mallya said as a rule Formula One drivers earn lots more than all professionals.