F1 Returns to India This Weekend – 2012

Formula One fever has not yet caught on in the Capital, though the Indian Grand Prix is just a week away. Promotional activities are on in full swing and ticket rates have been slashed. Yet, if you are thinking about a possible full house at the Buddh International Circuitin Greater Noida on October 28, the public response till now has been a bit subdued. The fan interest last time was indeed very high as it was for the first time that F1 was coming to India. However, from a pure sporting point of view, it should be thrilling to watch Sebastian Vettel leading the charge once again after the way he has bounced back into the lead in the standings.

It is this adrenaline rush from the German which F1 was waiting for, as the two-time defending champion has switched gears so suddenly and won the last three races. However, if one were to reflect at this point of time on motorsport in India and racing specifically, I am convinced we have not moved one inch forward. It’s a year since the last Indian Grand Prix and all those who were telling us Indian motorsport would zoom seem to have pulled a fast one on us. I can tell you with conviction, as a nation which fantasizes about Formula One and wants to see Indians at the wheel of the speed demons, the racing structure at home is as archaic as it was a decade ago.

While there is no dearth of following for F1 in India, we do not have a proper structure for talent to be tapped on a big scale and the platform for drivers to emerge is inadequate. And if you though it was only the drivers who raced hard and ran into each other on the sharp corners of a Formula One track, in India we have officials, sponsors and the entire fraternity ready to pull each other down at every possible opportunity. For the sake of existence, we have a sporting body – the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India – which is supposed to run the sport in the country.

Having seen it function from close quarters, I can only tell you that if this country has a few drivers who have made it to the highest level, it is because of their own drive and initiative and how their parents and sponsors backed them. This time last year, we were talking of Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok possibly racing at the Buddh circuit. Now that Narain is the only Indian driver around with a weak team and in a slow car, you have to be happy with whatever you have. But my bigger fear is that the day Narain, too, falls out of the F1 circus, we will have no Indian representation in a sport which brings us immense thrill.

There are two big factors which determine a driver’s existence at the middle and lower levels in F1. The first is the driver’s own skills and speed and the second is what sort of financial backing he has. In the case of Narain, he does have solid sponsorship from the Tatas, but if you look at his case, it has been a tough rise from scratch. However, given the global racing dynamics today and lack of F1 seat availability, even a Michael Schumacher is shown the door by Mercedes without any mercy.

If we are going to fantasize about one more Indian driver making it to F1 after Narain, Karun and maybe Armaan Ebrahim, it will be a mere dream. The racing structure at home is pedestrian. Yet, even this platform would not exist without the involvement of dedicated sponsors like JK Tyre, MRF and Volkswagen. It is well known that in racing, the first step is karting. Agreed, from fourstroke karts, we have graduated to two-stroke karts and there are proper karting tracks in eight cities. With only JK running a proper championship spread over five rounds, it’s a good entry point for 50 drivers in three categories. But, after spending three to four years in karting, it isn’t easy to move upwards.

The ‘Formula’ car used in the JK racing national championship is good for a start, but if someone tells you he is going to move up faster and graduate, it cannot happen at home. The only way out is if the driver has bags full of dollars so he can race in Europe and hope to move up. Then again, given the lack of direction from the people who run motorsport in the country, minus the corporate sector’s initiative, racing would be as good as dead.

Motorsports’ case is different to the other sports in India – barring cricket – where the competition structure exists but there’s no corporate coming forward to help. While it is interesting to watch the Volkswagens race for the Polo Cup, these are not ‘Formula’ cars by definition. Next year, it is expected that the Toyota Cup’s entry will spice things up but the way things are run today, you can forget it if someone says champion drivers will come out of this.

If you include karting and racing at home, the exposure now available is very limited. People are also waiting for MRF to unleash their Formula 3 car during the support race for the Indian GP. Having tracked the rivalry between JK and MRF, I am waiting to see the two companies put their cars out together on December 2 at the Buddh circuit.

News source: India Today

All pictures courtesy: Formula1



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