The cities with the biggest Formula One followings are obviously Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai. New Delhi woke up to watching F1 races live on big screens at pubs just about four years ago. Even then, these gatherings were often less about a love for the sport and more about hanging out with friends and the promotional lager offers!
Whenever karting events were held here, they had to be in Gurgaon or Faridabad as the city does not have a single karting track. And four years ago, when the JK Tyre National karting finals were actually held here, the area near the Pragati Maidan bus terminus was converted into a “track.” So, for a city that really has no “racing culture”, getting an F1 race is very, very big. In contrast, Chennai has seen fans travel all the way from there to Kuala Lumpur to watch an F1 race live on tour packages.
Delhi’s own Gaurav Gill, who became National champion last year in the Formula Rolon category in races held at Chennai and Coimbatore, always used to speak of how tough it was for him to get practice. “Race drivers in Chennai and Coimbatore have access to the track any time they want but for me in Delhi, there’s no place to go,” said Gill. He is now focussing on rallying and represents Team MRF in the APRC. “There are two cultures in Delhi, cricket and politics. I guess only now people have woken up to F1 here.”
Then we have Delhi’s Kartik Shankar, a teenager trying to become a race driver. He used to go to Chennai and learn the racing lines. So maybe, if an F1 track does come up, he would benefit.
Karun Chandhok, who has competed in the British Formula 3, Nissan World Series and is now in the GP 2 series, told HT from Chennai: “This is the best news I could have heard in my life — that New Delhi will host an F1 race. It should show the world that as far as technology is concerned, India is not far behind,” he said.
However, when HT contacted Akbar Ebrahim, India’s first Formula 3 driver, he was more guarded. “I heard some years back that F1 was coming to Hyderabad. As one actively involved with motorsport, I must say it’s great news and I hope nobody is making a political statement. If it happens, it is great news for India & Asia.”