Being a money-centric sport, the survival Formula One as an elite activity would require sponsorships and proper attention, particularly from media. Whether Indian GP would pass the first hurdle is yet to be seen.
India has only two drivers in the F1 circuit to boast of –the dashing and charismatic 27-year-old Karun Chandhok is one among them. He is India’s second driver to have competed in Formula One. Karun, who is currently with Team Lotus, made his F1 debut last year with Hispania.
In an exclusive interview, he reveals to Zeenews.com’s Nishad Vellur on the sport’s future in the country, the favourites for inaugural Indian GP and much more.
How do you think the Grand Prix will impact India, considering the sport`s already booming market in the country?
Well, F1 has been my life since I can remember. So, the F1 race coming home is a huge moment for us and I am very excited. There has been talk about India hosting a race for more than a decade and to actually see it becoming a reality is unbelievable. The Gaur family and the Jaypee group deserves a lot of credit for bringing F1 to India. The sport is an international spectacle like no other and it will be great for all the fans to experience it first hand in India.
The sport in India is certainly growing and becoming more structured and organised as it needs to be. I think a lot depends on the success of the Indian GP. If we can get people in the grandstands and get the country, especially the media, excited about the race and about F1, it will make a big difference. Everything in motorsport stems from Formula 1, so if we can make the GP a success then we can build the lower Formula’s up on the back of that.
Will it see a surge of fresh talents?
To be honest, when I started out, things really weren`t too much different compared to the past. I was a product of the JK Tyre National Racing Championship but had no karting experience. Since then, we now have a bit more of a structure in terms of karting in India as well as training programmes and an expanded version of the JK Tyre National Championships along with a new project I helped to initiate called the JK Racing Asia series, which is a pan-Asia international series for young drivers. I think kids and parents today believe that this could actually be a realistic dream for someone who is committed and that’s very heartening to see.
Will the Indian GP help in getting the sport more finances and sponsorships, which has been a constrain for many Indian racers in the past?
I think that it’s a given that the sport requires considerable investments and involvement from India Inc. to push it forward. However, given the enormous hype around the Grand Prix this year and the number of corporates who have jumped onto the Formula One bandwagon, I’m definitely hoping to see a surge in sponsorships. This will help to keep us at the pinnacle of the sport.
Today, people in India have started to understand the branding opportunities in Formula One. Formula One is a global sport with wide reach that is beneficial to many local companies in India and Asia. As Indian organisations continue to enlarge their global footprint, Formula One is a fantastic platform to increase their awareness. With over 520 million viewers last year, it’s hard for your brand not to get noticed and it gives our companies a chance to launch themselves on the global platform.
Does it have the possibility to become a mass sport? Your views.
Yes. In India, Formula One is certainly not a mass sport yet. But I don’t think it’s something that we need to apologise for; I think it’s something that we need to work on. We need to work from the grassroot level and make it more accessible, so that anyone who wants to go racing can do it easily by introducing more go-kart centres, academies and build on the foundation that’s already quite strong with our National Racing Championships.
Personally, how comfortable are you with the youth icon tag? Does it pile more pressure on you?
It’s natural for any sportsperson at our stage to face pressure, more from within ourselves than others around us. I think being a youth icon is an opportunity to bring awareness to a sport like F1, which was raw in India till a few years ago. While there is a great deal of pressure, it`s an amazing feeling to know that you are one out of a billion people and that I`m living my childhood dream. It`s like any sport - look at what Sania Mirza or Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes did for tennis or Vishy Anand for chess. The media response has been fantastic as well and I`ve had kind words of support from some great Indians like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Shah Rukh Khan. There has been so much support from within India and also from the Indian communities around the world. They said that they would come to the races with Indian flags to support me, which would be great and it would definitely be a massive driving force for me.
What are your first impressions of the Buddh circuit?
The circuit itself should be one of the fastest on the calendar this year and with the changes in elevation, it will definitely be a good challenge for the drivers and teams. It will also be quite a spectacle for the Indian fans as well.
Turn 4 is going to be one of the best overtaking opportunities on the lap with the last of the late-brakers being able to reap the rewards for being brave. With the extra track width that has been created at Turns 3, 4 and 16, we could have cars going in 5 wide on the opening laps!
It’s going to be a real challenge for the engineers and the tyres around this circuit. The long straight from turns 3 to 4 puts an emphasis on straight line speed but then from turn 4 till the end of the lap, you barely have the steering wheel straight and this will require a serious amount of down force apart from putting a lot of strain on the tyres.
Who do you think are the favourites for the Indian GP?
When you look at the layout and after having done work on the simulator, the circuit’s nature seems to suit the teams that had a good run last time in Korea as well. I would expect Red Bull and McLaren to battle it out again here in Noida with Ferrari the obvious other contender. There’s plenty of room for overtaking here, though I’m hoping we’re going to see some exciting action on track.
How has been your transition to the top level? Are you comfortable?
Racing has been my whole life since I was a kid. I’ve been obsessed with the sport and have grown up in a motorsport environment (my grandfather raced in the ’50s and founded the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India and my dad has been racing since 1972). It was a natural progression for me. While other kids were reading Tintin, I had my eyes glued to Autosport magazine. In India, family businesses are very common so I guess you could say this is ours! Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a racing driver so I’m glad I’m a person that gets to live my childhood dream!!!
The last couple of years when I was doing GP2 and running at the front, winning races and getting podiums against some of the best drivers in the world I started to believe it might happen. The transition from GP2 hasn’t been hard inside the cockpit as the cars are the closest to Formula One. Now, with considerable experience under my belt this year as well, I know that I’m ready on any given day to step into the car when needed and do a good job on track.
There is a belief that the sport has lost in personal chart, as it has become more machine oriented? Your views on it.
There`s nothing in the world like Formula One for a complex, complicated, sporting business. The sensory overload is just incredible on a race weekend with the combination of speed, sound, smell, colour, glamour and competition, and this means that Formula One is appealing to every demographic on the planet. Yes, over the years the sport has become quite machine oriented, but people often forget that we still need extremely skilled and talented people to pedal these machines around a track at over 300km/hr. It’s certainly a special feeling when you’re out on the track, being only one out of 24 people in the world, to have access to this machinery and there isn’t one second where our focus isn’t on the job at hand. I guess that’s what makes the sport all the more exciting!