BANGKOK – Three-time Formula One World champion Sebastian Vettle of Germany was non-committal about the possibility of a Thailand F1 Grand Prix, as he made his first visit here along with seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher for the Red Bull Singha Race of Champions.
The German hotshot arrived the capital yesterday morning and took practice drives along with team-mate Schumacher for the ROC of Nations Cup which both have dominated since 2007.
When he was asked by a Thai media about Thailand’s attempt to organise an F1 Grand Prix, the Red Bull Renault’s driver bemoaned current the tight schedule, normally around 19-20 circuits a year.
“I think it will be great but I don’t know how serious the rumours are. We already have a lot of races in the calendar. So we are pretty busy from February when we start testing. I don’t know if there is enough space. But it will be a great place,” said the 25-year-old German who also questioned about the popularity of motor sport here.
“It’s my first time here. I will drive for the first time here. I’m looking forward to tonight. We will see if Thai people like motor sports and how full the stands will be,” said the German who won five F1 legs this season.
Schumacher, who retired from F1 this year, was also a first-time visitor to the Kingdom and said he would try to add more ROC titles.
“That’s what we are here for. This event is a highlight at the end of the year. We come to show our abilities on tracks.”
Thailand is negotiating with F1 management to organise a race here in 2014. However, only small crowds have showed up at the 50,000 capacity Rajamangala Stadium for the ROC event so far.
Tin handed Vettel test
Meanwhile in Friday’s ROC of Thailand race, which featured veteran driver Nattavude Charoensukawattana, Tin Sritrai, Nattapon Horthongkum and drift guru Sak “Kiki” Nana, the 48-year-old Nattavude drew on his extensive experience to roar home first, with the younger Tin driving to second place.
Both later teamed up for the ROC of Asia against India, China and Japan. However, their lack of practice time as at team saw the local duo manage just three wins out of six, matching finalists Japan but missing out on a count-back of fastest times.
“I was invited to compete at a short notice, so I just had to use my experience throughout the competition. I’m not familiar with the format and the type of cars but it was a new experience for me,” said Nattavude, who normally races in the Gold Kart series.
Current Asian Touring Car champion Tin lacked control during the race and admitted he had not performed to his best.
“I made a lot of errors. I was out of practice and didn’t have much time getting used to the cars,” said Tin who teamed up with Nattavude for the Roc of Nations Cup last night. The Thai duo was placed in group B against Germany, Australia and India.
Today Nattavude and Tin will line up in the individual Race of Champions. Nattavude has been pitted against eighth-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, three-time World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx and a winner from ROC of Asia, in Group B.
Tin has been drawn in a star-studded Group C against Vettel, reigning MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo and five-time 500cc MotoGP world champion Mick Doohan.
“I will try not to think about my rivals. If I look at them as superstars I might lose my focus and end up underperforming. If I stay focused, I can produce good results,” said the 23-year-old Thai, who reject the idea he has a slight edge over two-wheeled heroes like Lorenzo and Doohan.
“Although they race on two-wheels, they should be better than me on four wheels either because motor racing disciplines require similar skills. I will do my best and hopefully I won’t finish last in the group,” said Tin.
Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok of India, with four wins in the group stage, entered the final as favourites and lived up to expectations after beating Toyota Team Gazoo Japan’s Kazuya Oshima and Takuto Iguchi for the ROC of Asia Cup.
“That was a really good night and it was obviously very nice to end up on top. It wasn’t as straightforward as we would have hoped as we both had our favourite cars but we ended up driving different ones than we wanted. But it worked out well in the end,” said Chandhok.
“This is the first time at the Race of Champions for both myself and Karun and I’ve really enjoyed this event so far. It’s a unique format and it’s pretty tight and narrow out there. So it was a challenge to put a precise lap together in any of the cars. But it’s just about getting the best out of each car. You need to adapt very quickly without any mistakes as you need a clean lap,” said the Karthikeyan. – Lerpong AMsa-ngiam