New Delhi, Oct 29: After two successful editions of the Indian Grand Prix, it is probably the best time to raise the question: Has the arrival of Formula One helped the country’s motor sports?
The glitz, glamour and the adrenaline rush associated with F1 has surely grabbed the attention of sports fans in this cricket-crazy nation. But has it done enough to produce another Narain Karthikeyan and improve the domestic circuit?
All that seems to be work in progress.
Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India (FMSCI) president Vicky Chandhok told IANS that the race has been a boon for the country but he doesn’t see another Indian F1 driver on the grid anytime soon.
“Since the first race in 2011, we have seen a 30 percent growth in the number of events including all categories. So, that has been a big positive. But if you ask me about the next F1 driver from India, I don’t see that happening for the next eight years. How are you going to get the money to get there,” Chandhok told IANS.
A Formula One aspiring driver needs around $10 million to land himself a seat for a full season in small teams like HRT.
Karthikeyan and Chandhok’s son Karun are the two Indians, who have driven for F1 teams. But for them success was hard to come by.
Three-time F1 world champion Jackie Stewart, during the inaugural Indian GP, had stressed on the importance of good tracks in India.
But the growth in the domestic circuit has been sluggish.
Talks are on for hosting a round of the JK Tyre National Championship, premier domestic series, at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC). The championship so far has been confined to Chennai and Coimbatore, the two hubs of motorsports in the country.
Karting, considered a breeding ground for a future Formula One car driver, takes place only in Hyderabad, Kolhapur and Coimbatore.
The scene is no better in biking as well. The machines used in the existing series also don’t give the budding talent a platform to get noticed, forcing them look towards Europe.
“Hosting a Formula One race can’t do much in improving the grassroots. F1 is only the cream at the top. You need to have enough race tracks especially in a big country like India. You got to give the youngsters a decent car to drive. Like the way you have in Europe.”
“You start with karting, compete in Formula Renault or F3 for a couple of seasons before thinking about F1,” Gary Anderson, former racing car designer and currently a F1 expert for BBC, told IANS.
For the drivers’ point of view, Karthikeyan says there is still a long way for Indian motor sports.
“Nothing happens overnight. It is good that F1 has come to India. It has helped in getting the corporate interest in the sport. But still the major chunk of the sponsors are still inclined towards cricket. I have been rather lucky to get TATA’s support. It would take another 5-8 years India before makes its presence felt on the world stage,” Karthikeyan had said ahead of the Indian Grand Prix.
Karthikeyan feels the only competitive Formula car series in the country is the MRF Formula 2000, which was run as a support race in the Indian Grand Prix.
It would be fair to say that getting a Formula One race has little to do with the progress of the sport in a region.