In search of an Indian at the elite wheel

In search of an Indian at the elite wheel

After Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, it has been a dry run for the country at the highest level.

It is hard to digest the fact that the Indian Grand Prix has no Indian driver in the mix. Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok drove in the years preceding this one, with Narain finishing 22nd in the first year and 21st in 2012 while Karun was only used by Lotus during free practice.

 This year, both are not on the grid for their home Grand Prix though they are present on the commentary panel. Being a Formula One commentator is a matter of great pride -- ask the former voice of F1, Steve Slater, but when those individuals are the only drivers India has managed to put on to the F1 grid, it makes you wonder if there is something terribly wrong with the entire system we have in place.

It is a tough task for the young drivers to take up and bloom in single-seater racing. The Federation of Motor Sports Clubs in India (FMSCI) has revamped the structure of motorsport in the country but that hasn’t helped in lifting the state of the sport.

 Karun and Narain -- also by virtue of belonging to families who are in touch with the motorsport fraternity -- were determined to leave a mark on international racing. They managed to dominate the National circuit and eventually showed promise on the European circuit before getting that big break.

It is altogether another matter that they were quickly shown how far behind they were when pitted against the best in the business. What matters, however, is the fact that they got that far. Currently though, it is very hard to foresee another Indian driving in the biggest single-seater event for some time to come.

 There have been many who have shown promise in the National ranks but when forced to ply their wares against the competition in Europe, they break down and fade away just as quickly. A new crop of youngsters have proven their prowess and have already been tipped to make the cut. Jehan Daruvala is one who features prominently on this list while Arjun Maini and Tarun Reddy too are expected to come good.

 Jehan, who recently won the British Karting Championship, is part of Sahara Force India’s Formula One Academy and was picked from the ‘One From A Billion’ programme that Vijay Mallya came up with a couple of years ago. The programme has not brought out a series of quality drivers. It has instead offered a single ray of hope.

“Ever since I became involved as a team owner in Formula One, I have consistently maintained that we will find an Indian driver who eventually will be in Formula One, and that’s why we started the Force India Formula One academy. Jehan Daruvala is a product of that academy and I’m absolutely delighted with the fact that he’s won the karting championship,” said Mallya.

“Our efforts will continue, the programme will continue but producing a Formula One driver takes time and they have to be good enough and experienced enough to compete with the best in the world so I can only reinforce my commitment, I can’t quite predict when it will actually happen but one day hopefully it will,” he added.  Mallya’s efforts have paid dividends as evidenced by Daruvala’s impressive transformation, but it would have been even better if a similar effort comes forth in promoting the sport through the FMSCI, of which he is the chairman.

 Arjun and Tarun have done their bit on the National circuit and may dominate the next few seasons but with the parent body not putting up the next step in their progress, they will be forced to drive in England. That will give them the necessary experience but if struck down early in their careers, chances are they will never be able to get back.

“Narain and I benefitted from the fact that our families were closely connected with motorsport. We already had our foot in. And plus, the big difference is that we won races in Europe,” Karun said ahead of the Indian Grand Prix’s qualifying session on Saturday.
“The young drivers have not done that yet (barring Jehan).

Some of the guys in the past did well on the National circuit but when it came down to driving in Europe, they faltered. As far as I know, the next crop of drivers are quite a few years away but I think guys like Jehan (Daruvala), Tarun Reddy and Arjun Maini are in the mix. They are currently benifiting from all the work that we put in before them. They have a great chance to use such good infrastructure and do something with the talent.”

 Narain and Karun have showed in the past that it is possible to go all the way. Whether the Gen X can heed to that call and work towards adding to India’s profile in Formula One, is something only time will tell.

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