Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lotus F1 team chief launches scheme for aspiring young drivers

Tony Fernandes' dream is to see technical wizard Ross Brawn and Formula 1's rising star Sebastian Vettel in his Lotus team one day, alongside an Asian face.

Many would say that is far-fetched.
But maybe they will not baulk when the AirAsia boss claims a Singapore driver could be among the mix of Malaysian and Asean drivers in his Lotus team within the next 10 years.
Fernandes made the brave prediction yesterday at his airline's academy near the Sepang International Circuit, where he introduced Singapore's Daim Hishammudin and Nabil Jeffri of Malaysia as the first two youngsters in AirAsia's Asean Driver Development Programme.The programme will provide a direct route into Formula 1 and towards the Lotus F1 team, which Fernandes resurrected last September, as well as the British-based Williams outfit, which has AirAsia as a sponsor.

"If there is one sport I believe we can compete in with the rest of the world because of our physical stature, it is motorsport," said Fernandes."We have the mental ability and good brains, and the successful Formula 1 drivers are smart, like Nico Rosberg who has a Masters in Physics."Daim, who has won several junior karting competitions in Malaysia, clinched a lucrative sponsorship deal from Malaysian banking giants CIMB earlier this year. He will make his debut in the Asian Karting Championships in the Philippines in June.
The 11-year-old's inclusion in the AirAsia programme means he could become Singapore's first Formula 1 driver.
"It's either Formula 1 or nothing else for me," said Daim. "It is the only dream I have and if I can't make it, then I will find a job doing something else, maybe an engineer in Formula 1.
The event yesterday was attended by Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia, T Jasudasen, and Singapore Motor Sport Association (SMSA) president Tan Teng Lip.
"I am very delighted that in the process of searching for young talent in Asean, Tony has picked a young Singaporean in Daim to join a Malaysian as the first drivers to groom for Formula 1," said Jasudasen."We have to admit that Malaysia is well ahead in the motorsport industry. They started the Formula 1 races at Sepang in 1999 and are ahead of the pack. We are behind the curve but hopefully, we will catch up in time."

Fernandes admitted that motorsports is expensive and the only way for the region to excel is to pool resources.
He said: "It is important for Asean to work together then to do everything ourselves because to put a driver into Formula 1 is beyond the budget of many of our countries. We have to bring down these invisible walls.
Daim will come under the wing of former Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong, who has mapped out a long-term programme to get the youngster into the top race in motorsport. Malaysia's Yoong will send Daim to Europe annually for training, starting with a two-month stint before the end of this year, and has set a target for the Singaporean to start racing in junior open wheel races by the time he is 15.
TODAY, Ian da Cotta

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