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Force India to assess Chandhok and Jani

MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Force India plan to put Karun Chandhok and Neel Jani in McLaren’s Formula One simulator in the next few weeks to see if they have what it takes to be their 2010 test driver.

Force India team owner Vijay Mallya gives the thumb up at the end of the third practice session of the Italian F1 Grand Prix in Monza September 12, 2009. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Force India owner Vijay Mallya told Reuters however that his team’s recent success, with two top four finishes in two races, had made competition for the job even stiffer.

He indicated Germany’s Adrian Sutil and Italy’s Vitantonio Liuzzi were likely to be retained as race drivers.

“I have been very clear in my mind. I’m not a big team. I’m a very small team, probably with the tiniest budget. I need to have people who can help deliver my objectives. I can’t afford any luxuries,” Mallya said after Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.

“Karun is like a son to me. I have known him from when he was a little boy in shorts. If I can give him a chance, I’d be delighted.

“But he has to prove that he is also capable. So I’ve told him I’ll put him in the McLaren driver simulator and let me see what you do. And based on that we’ll talk further.”

India’s Chandhok, 25, is competing in the GP2 support series, without notable success, while Jani was A1 GP champion for Switzerland but has an Indian father.

“He and his dad have been after me for the last one and a half years and he came to see me again,” Mallya said of Swiss-born Jani, also 25.

“The guy is saying give me a chance. I can’t deny him a chance in the simulator so yes, he will also go in.”

COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Mallya said the Indian prospects would get their chance when a booking was available, probably in the next four weeks.

Mercedes-powered Force India have a cooperation agreement with former champions McLaren and Sutil and Liuzzi have both had time recently in what is considered the best and most sophisticated simulator in Formula One.

Mallya was criticised for not drafting in Chandhok, instead of Liuzzi, when Italian Giancarlo Fisichella recently switched to Ferrari but he said the Indian needed to be winning races.

“I desperately need performance,” he said. “We are slogging to make that better, we have achieved that and now we need the drivers to perform. I cannot be lenient in any way.”

“After Spa (last month’s Belgian Grand Prix), I have at least 10 drivers and agents who have come to me, including some pretty well known F1 drivers.”

Mallya said Sutil, who finished fourth on Sunday, and Liuzzi would probably be retained.

“They are loyal and hard working. They are with the team and part of the team, they are doing their best. Unless I have some compelling reason to change, I ask myself why should I change?

“As of now I am very happy with what I have and the only role open is a test driver role and we’ll see where we go from there.”

After 29 races without a point, Force India have scored 13 in two grands prix -- Fisichella was second in Belgium from pole position - and are ninth overall.

“I have a three-year plan, going up to the Indian Grand Prix in 2011,” said Mallya. “This year we should score points, next year we should aim for more podiums and then finally win races.

“I think we are bang on track,” he said. “In fact we have probably advanced our programme a little bit.”

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