An interesting look at motorsports in India.
Motorsport forms a small part of sports in India; the general love for cars like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Ferrari doesn’t make Indians overly interested in motorsports but there are certain section of fans who not only love the cars but worship every aspect of racing. If you ask these Indians, they will tell you how intense the Senna-Prost rivalry was, they will tell you how Schumacher won those seven titles. Be it Formula One, MotoGP or even Endurance, the fans make sure to watch them all.
Most of the racing activities in India are handled by Federation of Motorsport Club of India (FMSCI) and is currently seeking to be recognized as a National Sports Federation by the Government of India. Formula One is no doubt the most popular race event of the lot, the three Indian Grand Prixs showed the interest of not only the promoters Jaypee Group, but also of the fans in general.
India's first Formula One driver
One can argue that the circuit was not sold out but considering that motorsport is still in the developing stages in India, the circuit being at more than half the capacity is a satisfactory result. You must go back to 2005 when India’s first Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan raced for the Jordan F1 team. He now races in Super Formula Series in Japan and also does a lot of promotional work for Indian motorsports in India with the help of Tata Motors.
In 2007 the announcement of the buyout of the Spyker F1 team by Dr. Vijay Mallya and launch of a new team under the name of Sahara Force India F1 team provided a major breakthrough for Indian motorsport; it became the first Indian team on the Formula One grid. Since 2008, the Indian outfit has improved leaps and bounds with a limited budget; forming a crucial team in the midfield pack. The only criticism they face is the fact that the team does not have an Indian driver in their roster. This prompted Dr. Mallya to launch ”One from a Billion” programme to unearth young Indian drivers and put them into their Sahara Force Driver Academy. Presently, Jehan Daruvala is the only Indian driver to be in the SFIDA having already won the British Junior Karting Championship in 2013 and is currently driving in various senior karting series in Europe.
India's impact goes beyond the four-wheel category
Arjun Maini, the winner of the OFAB programme currently races in the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Formula Four championship with a number of podium finishes, a couple of wins and pole positions under his belt already. The two wheel category has Mahindra Racing as an Indian team racing in the Moto 3 feeder series for MotoGP. They've become the second Indian team to be racing in an International series, as they prepare to compete in the FIA Formula E championship. They have Karun Chandhok as their driver alongside Bruno Senna; Karun is already driving for Murphy Prototypes in the European Le Mans championship and also raced in the 24 Hours Le Mans race. Karun is the only other Indian Formula One racer having made his debut for the HRT F1 team in 2010 season.
The racing events in India are well supported by JK Tyres and MRF Rcaing who give young Indian talents an opportunity to achieve their dream of racing in single seater racing, starting from karting to senior single seater racing. As for sportscar racing, the likes of Volkswagen Polo and Toyota Etios Racing give young sportscar racers a chance to enhance their skills in various championships. Their two sportscar racers includes Aditya Patel, who has a strong backing from Audi and races in the International GT Open for Team Novadriver, while Armaan Ebrahim races in the Blancpain Sprint Series with the backing of Meco Motorsport, driving a Mercedes.
Indian drivers like Parth Ghorpade (testing in Formula Three) and Tarun Reddy (racing in MRF championship), along with Jehan and Arjun are some of the drivers to look for in the future. The major issue an Indian driver faces is the lack of corporate funding and sponsors who tend to follow the suite of funding players and events which sells the most in India. Motorsport, in a way, is a slow process of reaping out results which puts the corporate and sponsors on the back foot. This way however, they lose out on the global recognition which a motorsport event provides.
Jaypee group have done a fantastic job with Buddh International Circuit, which has been praised by all the drivers and teams coming for the Formula One race. It is indeed a fantastic venue. The unfortunate scenario is the Government not recognizing motorsport or Formula One as sport according to the guidelines they follow. The Government has no issues if Jaypee is hosting the race in India but they are clear that they are not going to extend any financial help to Jaypee and neither are they going to ease up taxes during the time of the event.
And so the Grand Prix’s future hangs in balance where the promoters are unable to get any Government aid whatsoever to bring the race back to the Formula One calendar. It’s confusing from the Government where in one place they want Jaypee group to put money into the National Sports Development Fund as they host the Formula One race and gain through taxes and tourism, but on the other hand, they don’t want to help in any manner.
Jaypee group had hoped that the new Government will provide financial support for hosting of the Grand Prix, but they made it clear like the old Government that they have no intention to extend any financial support for the GP. Russia and Mexico are joining the Formula One schedule and therefore, it will be tough for India to make a comeback.
And with no support from the Government, Jaypee group will have a tough time convincing Mr. Bernie to slot India back on the calendar. But as one can say, there is always that hope that one day it will be back.