Waiting for drivers' seat

Updated: 2011-04-08 11:07

By Lei Lei (China Daily European Weekly)

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 Waiting for drivers' seat

  Tung Ho-pin, test driver for the Lotus Renault GP team.

Lack of sponsorship appears to be why Chinese drivers have yet to race in a Formula 1 event

Dutch-born Chinese driver Tung Ho-pin is still knocking on doors to become a Formula 1 race driver, eight years after the first Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai and with this year's event taking place on April 17.

Tung, who has been re-signed as a test driver by the Lotus Renault GP team, faces his biggest stumbling block - financial support.

Zhan Guojun, vice-president of the Federation of Automobile Sports of China (FASC), says: "There are only about 30 F1 drivers a year and it is hard to say when China will have an F1 driver or an F1 team.

"It depends on whether any Chinese company is interested in fielding a team and offering a driver's seat to a Chinese."

Last year, Tung became a test driver for Renault, making him one of only a handful of ethnic Chinese to join an F1 team.

The 28-year-old was one of many drivers signed by Gravity, a management group under Genii Capital, which bought a 75-percent stake in Lotus Renault in 2009.

Tung rose to prominence in 2004 when he was awarded an F1 test drive with BMW-Williams after his landslide victory in the Asian Formula BMW Championship - the first Chinese to claim that honor.

 Waiting for drivers' seat

After that, Tung, who started racing at 14, performed well on the ATS Formel 3 Cup circuit from 2004 to 2006. He won the championship in 2006 after coming in third in 2005.

In 2007, he moved up to GP2. "My experience, my general speed and my knowledge about the car have improved in recent years," says Tung.

"I learned a lot about car technology. Just the whole package as a driver, I've learned a lot."

Tung has gained glory for China, the flag under which he races.

In 2007, he gave China its first podium finish in the A1 Grand Prix series, coming in third at the A1 Grand Prix of Nations held at the Eastern Creek raceway in Sydney, Australia.

Tung, who is registered with the Federation of Automobile Sports of China, has long been targeted by Chinese companies.

Bert Winkler, Tung's manager, told China Daily before Tung joined Lotus Renault that some Chinese companies were interested in F1 because its value is huge.

"I'm sure that there will be some companies who see that because China is changing as well," Winkler said.

He said Tung has done well in different categories.

"He is stable and consistent. He knows the handling of the cars and gives good feedback to his team," he said.

"He is of great value to his team and a lot of people have noticed that."

Winkler says he hopes for more support for Tung from Chinese companies.

"The discussions we have had with teams are positive as they absolutely want Ho-pin in an F1 car. However, we need some partners.

"We are close to making a deal with some people."

Tung remains as a test driver for the Lotus Renault GP for the second consecutive year - something that Tung is delighted with.

"It shows that the team principals have great confidence in me and my skills," Tung says.

"I am proud to belong to such a prestigious and legendary team. Look at the beautiful livery."

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