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Cheng intends to be first Chinese F1 driver
By Li Jian (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-15 07:03

SHANGHAI: Cheng Congfu, the promising Chinese driver who is now under the training of Team McLaren Mercedes, said he fully intends to become the first Chinese Formula One driver in the next five or six years.

"It is quite possible to have a Chinese Formula One driver in five or six years. If there is a Chinese driver in the future, that will be me," said the 21-year-old.

"In the past year I have made great progress in the British Formula Renault Championship even though I ended in 11th place. In the coming two or three years I'm confident of becoming a test driver or even a real F1 driver."

The Beijing-born driver was the first Chinese mainland driver to test a Formula One car. The McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team gave 21-year-old Cheng his first chance to try Formula 1 power in a demonstration run at the Brno circuit in September 2004. The Netherlands-based Chinese Tung Ho-Ping tested a Williams in 2003.

"He is a really talented driver and has a promising future," formula one driver David Coulthard said of Cheng. "What he needs is time and more races."

Cheng started his racing career with karting in 1996 and shifted to cars in 2001, taking part in the British Formula Ford Winter Series. In 2002 he won the Chinese Formula Renault title and in 2003 switched to British Formula Renault with Manor Motorsport. In June 2003 he was signed as a member of the Team McLaren Mercedes driver development programme.

McLaren started to support the 21-year-old Cheng in 2003 by sending him to race in the British Formula Renault Championship and arranged for F1 experts to give him guidance to fast-track his development.

McLaren, who have spent a lot on supporting Cheng, expressed their satisfaction with Cheng's improvement, hoping he will continue to improve despite his standings in the Renault series. Cheng started the season quite sluggishly despite high expectations.

"In the winter training last year, I was able to join the top 4. But I had a very slow start when the season came. I got bad results in the first races and was not on the pace for the championship title any more.

"I know my performance are not reliable. In some races, I was not confident enough and lost the opportunities."

But he managed to pull himself back.

"I improve a lot in the second half of this season. I showed my potential and won several podiums. Confidence is more important to me. I am trying to learn to be tough and confident in the races."

The team gave credit to the Chinese driver's performance in 2005, but warned that he needs to hit a higher gear next season.

"He has a long way to go to become a formula one driver," said McLaren's chief Martin Whitmarsh, "He is likely to become the first Chinese Formula One driver if he makes great progress every year."

"He has speed but he needs to be polished by high-level racing. His performance in practice is quite satisfying, but he does not fully show his potential in the big races when competing with other top drivers."

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