Formula One or F1, as it is commonly known as, is a hugely popular Motorsports around the globe, and India is a country of 1.2 billion people. Yet, the F1 rarely has any Indian when it comes to racing the cars. It's not like automobiles and Indians are not well versed, infact India is one of the fastest growing automotive market in the world. Still, we have seen only 2 drivers till now, who represented India on the big platform, Narain Kartikeyan being the first ever Indian to race in an F1 followed by Karun Chandhok, son of Vicky Chandhok, current FMSI head.
While the career of Kartikeyan spanned over 48 races, Chandhok only raced in 11. Apart from the drivers, few noteworthy Indian connections include the famous Sahara Force India F1 team, Indian Grand Prix, hosted for 3 times in a row, before getting cancelled in 2013, and Monisha Kaltenborn, the team principal of the Sauber F1 team. But these connections are also not helping the premium Motorsports in India, when it comes to providing a good Indian Driver.
Karun Chandhok and Narain Kartikeyan
So why the overall lack of Indian drivers? We try to discuss a few problems here.
Europe is the Mecca of Motorsports and particularly F1, as all the F1 teams are based in Europe. Most of the world’s F1 experts--the engineers, aerodynamicists, engine and drivetrain experts, and manufacturers—are concentrated in Europe. Also, the lesser known championships, known to help young talent, groom and race at bigger level are also situated there, only. So, Young Indians, looking to break into F1 need to move overseas to have a realistic shot.
Sahara Force India F1 car
But the thing is, moving to Europe is not financially feasible. The currency conversion rates are almost 100 times more than the Indian currency and so is the standard of living. Apart from moving, one needs all sorts of safety gears, cars and other basic necessities to race. Also, the fees required to start racing independently are high, at some of the smaller events too. Hence it is a financially demanding sport.
Then there’s the fact that F1 just isn’t as popular in India as it is everywhere else, which likely discourages young Indians from participating. Yes, F1 is in Delhi-NCR and is being broadcast live on the various Sports networks, but even the well-rated broadcasts are insignificant compared to the juggernaut that is Cricket.
Bernie Eccelestone, F1 boss, with Indian celebrities during Indian GP
Another major reason for the sports, not to find much viewers here is the complexity. F1 isn’t friendly to the casual or first time viewer and is massively complex and largely about engineering. Teams build their own cars, always looking for an edge while staying just within the guidelines set by the FIA, the sport’s governing body. It can take years for fans, to understand all its nuances, even with top-notch television presenters there to explain what’s going on.
Then comes the most important aspect of racing, the infrastructure. One can buy a fast car, but can't create a track of its own. And that is a major sore point for the willing talents. Until recent times, only Southern part of India used to have a motorsports track, but that was also not upto the mark for the F1 races. The good news came in the form of Budh International Circuit, situated in the outer parts of the capital, New Delhi. The famous track hosted 3 races from 2010-12, before going the red tape way.
And the reason for the F1 to move out of India was Beaurucrary. As happens with most of the sports, the administrative structure in India engulfed the sports, which quietly started creating interest among the enthusiasts. Nobody knows the exact reason for the race to stop in India, but everyone knows that it had to do something with the Bureaucratic issue.
When Karun Chandok didn't find any team after racing for Lotus and Hispania racing team in the 2010-11 season, many were hopeful that Force India would support the local talent and utilize him as the driver. But nothing of that sort happened and we can't blame the team for it. Everyone wants to choose the best of the best for their team and Karun Chandok was not doing too good in the F1 at that time. Platform availability is yet another issue, which comes in a way, when a driver is willing to contest, but can't find any team or sponsors.
Formula one is one such sport where the tiniest of detail can change the course of the race within micro seconds and we Indians always been good with the numbers. But when it comes to participating as a driver, we somehow lack behind the European faces. We firmly believe that it is high time someone should come forward and push the right talent to do the best at the highest level of speeds, where every second counts!