There are two Asian drivers in the ranks of Formula One, but with the continent becoming a growing force in the sport and one of the world’s most glamorous, it is only a matter of time before there are more.
In recent years, the Formula 1 roadshow has made increasing inroads into Asia. As well as the long-running Japanese Grand Prix, fans can now see races in Bahrain, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Korea and China. More could be on the way.
The sport knows that the best way to get new and local markets really interested in Formula One is to encourage home-grown drivers. If a Korean driver were to emerge, a race in the country would be a much bigger deal.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
With Japan’s established race, it is perhaps not surprising that Kamui Kobayashi is the number one Asian driver. However, Kobayashi is now being challenged by India’s Narain Karthikeyan.
Karthikeyan believes that India’s growing fascination with the sport and its improving motorsport infrastructure will help.
"It already resembles a European country," Karthikeyan told the Times of India. The driver told the publication that it took him 12 years to reach Formula One.
"Obviously one wouldn't want to compare eras," he said. "Those were different times and mine was an exciting journey. But with the kind of opportunities that are available in the country currently a driver's progress can certainly be a lot faster," he added.
It is not easy. Still, the traditional route to become a driver exists and that is to go to Italy as a teenager to race. It takes money and is incredibly competitive.
Kobayashi went there at 17 and was lucky to be backed by Toyota.
“Toyota fixed me up with an apartment and gave me a lot of support,” he said. But even so, it was far from easy. “Every day was a challenge and the Italians were so very different from the Japanese. In some ways we are more like the Germans – very punctual and very proper. Sometimes it was tough, but I knew what I wanted. If I was going to become a racing driver, I was in the right place.”
There is a hope from China. Tung Ho-pin is Dutch-Chinese but races under a Chinese license. He already has lots of experience racing in various events over the years and still has his eyes on joining the big boys in Formula One – he used to be the reserve driver for the Renault team.
"I've had the chance to be in Formula One for two years with Renault F1, and it was an amazing experience," Tung said in August. "It's such a special environment and all the cars, the equipment are really super high-tech.
"I think for every driver, Formula One is the goal, it's the dream, and so it is for me. Formula One will always be in my mind and always be in my life, I will never give up my dream to race in Formula One someday and to be a race driver there.”