Force India part-owner Vijay Mallya's assertion that neither of the two pioneer racing drivers from India — Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok — are good enough for F1 or his team has elicited incredulous reactions from those who really know their racing.
“I disagree with the statement. A non-grand prix driver cannot give an opinion as to a driver's abilities," says Emerson Fittipaldi, who was the F1 champion in 1972 and '74. "When Narain drove in F1, he did not have a competitive chassis or technical package. He's capable of winning GPs in a good car,” asserts Fittipaldi.
The big chief of F1, Bernie Ecclestone, who has seen the nuts and bolts of the business for decades is excited about the possibility of an Indian GP. He is even more certain that Chandhok belongs in the big league.
“The time is getting closer for F1 to be in India, which is something I am really enthusiastic about, and hopefully Karun will be part of it. His place is in F1,” Ecclestone told HT, scuttling Mallya's question mark on his ability.
The best judge of a driver's ability is usually his teammate, who competes in a similar car while facing common constraints. Those who have raced with India's best rate them quite highly. "F1 is all about the car you are given. Give Narain a race-winning car and he will win races I can guarantee you," says Tiago Monteiro, Karthikeyan's fellow F1 rookie with the Jordan team in 2005.
Bruno Senna, Chandhok's co-driver with the iSport team in GP2 is surprised that the Indian has been dismissed without being given a chance. "Karun has the potential and he has the speed. He can only be judged after proper opportunity," says the nephew of the legendary Ayrton Senna.
Mallya has repeatedly stressed that the British press knows far more about F1 than the relatively inexperienced writers on the sport in India. HT tapped Peter Windsor, former Williams team manager and the voice that quizzes winners at the post-event press conference.
“It’s amusing when people who have made a lot of money come to F1 and make such ridiculous statements. It makes one wonder how they ever made that money! There is absolutely no question that Karun has the ability to do well. He is at least as good as Adrian Sutil (present Force India driver)," says Windsor.
James Roberts, senior correspondent, F1 Racing magazine adds: "Narain was abnormally brave in his ability to stay committed in high-speed corners in that Jordan car. Over one lap he may actually be even quicker than (Giancarlo) Fisichella (present Force India number one driver). Karun is a great talent. I am surprised at what Mallya has said."