Formula One: Pioneer Fong eyes China's first F1 drive

SHANGHAI (AFP) - Hong Kong's Adderly Fong is hoping to blaze a trail for Chinese motorsport by becoming the country's first Formula One driver - and explode a few myths along the way.

The 25-year-old, who completed a practice session in Abu Dhabi and tested for Sauber last year, was recently unveiled as a development driver for Lotus and has bold plans to make a real impact on the glamour sport.

"I want to be a pioneer," Fong told AFP before the Chinese Grand Prix. "But I don't just want to be here for one race or one season. I want to make a career out of racing and be able to stay."

Chinese driver Ma Qinghua took part in free practice in his hometown Shanghai race for Caterham in 2013 and Fong is under no illusions as to the scale of the task he faces.

"The sports culture in Asia, and more specifically China, there needs to be a champion before anyone really gets into that sport," he said in an interview. "I hope to be the first Chinese Formula One driver - that's the main goal."

China experienced a basketball boom after giant centre Yao Ming joined the Houston Rockets in 2002 and shot to fame in the NBA, while Li Na put Chinese tennis on the map by winning the French Open in 2011.

However, China has failed to produce a truly world-class footballer and continues to struggle in the sport on the international stage. It also lags behind the likes of Asia neighbour Japan in motorsport.

"Japan is really well-developed in motorsport," said Fong. "They have the karting categories, Formula categories. Motorsport is part of the culture, whereas in China people only use cars as a means of transport."

- Controlled aggression -

Driving on China's public roads can be a hair-raising experience as cars swerve and change lanes at break-neck speed, an image Fong hopes to help shed with his more controlled aggression on the track.

"It's a kind of free-for-all," he smiled. "But it's a culture thing. Back when there were no penalties for red lights, people just went, so I guess that's kind of carried on. You kind of have to fight your way." And Fong insisted he had the right stuff to battle his way to a Formula One drive.

"To be able to compete at motorsports at a competitive level you need to go to Europe," said the Canadian-born Fong, who grew up idolising German great Michael Schumacher.

"For an Asian to go to Europe or to the States, especially for a local Chinese who doesn't speak English, is a big question mark. If I can do it then a lot more people will think they can do it too."

Fong has already had an education in Shanghai rubbing shoulders with Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, while also posing for photos with Chinese fans in the paddock.

"At the beginning it was a bit: 'Who's this? Who do I talk to?' But now I feel much more comfortable," he said. "Obviously I came to Lotus for professional help so I just have to basically prepare myself for when the opportunity comes."