Nice guy hoping to finish first

09:11, April 21, 2010      

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Tung Ho-Pin, the first ethnic Chinese to enter the hallowed ranks of Formula One, is too much of a nice guy to wish disaster on his Renault teammates.

But unless this happens, the charming Netherlands-born racer may not have a prayer of shifting up from reserve driver and into the annals of motor-racing history during his debut season at the pinnacle of the sport.

"I doubt we'll ever get to see him race in F1," said Dutch reporter Laura Postma, who writes for Formule1.n1. "I think he only got in because he is part-Chinese. I may be wrong, but he'll need to be very, very lucky."

The 27-year-old, known in China as Dong Hebin, is one of many drivers signed by Gravity, a management group under Genii Capital. Genii purchased a 75-percent stake in Renault F1 last fall, months before Tung was named as the outfit's third driver.

Unlike F1's glamorous image as the reserve of millionaire playboys and blond bombshells - the sort of branding that should make it huge in nouveau-riche China - Tung comes from humble beginnings. He was born in Holland to Chinese parents who emigrated there from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, decades ago.

"My parents ran a Chinese restaurant in Velp (in the Dutch municipality of Rheden)," he told China Daily last week before gearing up for the Chinese Grand Prix.

"I worked in a karting workshop on the weekends so I could borrow spare parts like carburetors to race."

As a teenager who got into karting late at the age of 14 , Tung struggled to keep his dream alive.

"I'd finish school on Friday then jump on a train the next morning with two huge bags on my shoulders," said Tung. "I'd sweat all day in the workshop, get a few hours' sleep then go racing on Sunday. I used to get jealous of the other boys because they had people helping them, fiddling with the engine, that kind of thing. But I had to figure everything out myself."

After a breakthrough at the Formula BMW Asia championship in 2003, which he won, the GP2 driver got to test for two other F1 teams before Renault picked him in January.

He now serves as the backup driver for two men who can only give him inspiration: Robert Kubica, the first Pole ever to race in F1, and Vitaly Petrov, the first Russian to do so.

Tung said he couldn't put a price tag on the value of working beside Kubica, who is rumored to be heading to Ferrari next season.

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