Chinese drivers face long road to seat in Formula One

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am

Three-times former world champion Sir Jackie Stewart says China is 10 years away from producing its own Formula One driver even though the country has one of the best tracks in the world.

The 66-year-old Scot (pictured), who received his knighthood in 2001 and won Formula One titles in 1969, 1971 and 1973, believes China doesn't yet have the infrastructure to make the grade despite its enormous population and size.

'I should think it's 10 years away simply because the infrastructure is not in place for motorsport at this time,' said Stewart, who is an ambassador for the Royal Bank of Scotland group, sponsors of Williams-BMW.

'Even with the magnificent facilities at Shanghai, as well as Zhuhai, there has be a population built within motorsport in order to develop the skills of the young drivers, the engineers and the technologists. All the young drivers need to be educated so he or she can come along. It's a bit of a law of averages. For example a lot of attention has been given to Danica Patrick, the young American driver at the moment in the IRL [Indy Racing League]. She's a lone wolf because you have many more men driving racing cars and the batting average is such that there are thousands of young boys when they are only 20 girls. The chance of a girl coming up to the top is very remote.

'It's nothing to do with the size of the population [in order to be successful]. There are only five million people in Finland and five million people in Scotland and five million people in Austria. But their infrastructure is very good in the formula classes in the sport from karting up to the formulas [racing].

'If you're Latin American, there is good motorsports there, particularly for people in Brazil. But you then have to transfer over to Europe to get to the top as Mark [Webber] did, like Jack Brabham did for Australia and Alan Jones did for Australia.

'So China will have to create an infrastructure because there's an infrastructure already in Australia of motorsports in one form or another which gives them the chance to get their feet wet. So whether it's a country with an enormous population as China or whether it's Malaysia which has an equally good race track, they have to have more motorsport in general before they can expect to bring the young driver along. Stewart added that China could not expect to reach Formula One level overnight and that there was 'much more to the sport than to just driving'.

Williams-BMW driver Mark Webber believes a Chinese driver will eventually end up in Formula One, although he said that hopefuls would need to go where the action is and gradually go through the ranks in Europe.

'I think it's inevitable that it could happen. It's important that they get in Europe early and get the support. People, companies or the government would have to lay the foundation for these young guys to race. You can't start at 25 [years-old] and expect to be in Formula One because you will get destroyed,' said Webber.

Shanghai is gearing up for the season finale as teams and drivers arrive in this city for Sunday's final round of the championship.

It's the second year China is hosting a round of the prestigious championship following last year's success and organisers are expecting another bumper crowd.