Is Force India really an Indian team?
India is a massive potential market for F1 and so having Indians interested in the sport is a great idea. One needs only to look back to see the interest that a successful driver can generate, Joe Saward writes.india Updated: Oct 28, 2012 00:03 IST
Having an Indian team is great news for F1. Race fans around the world are notoriously patriotic. Ferrari has fans everywhere, but beyond the celebrated Italian team, Locals only really get excited about a driver or a team that flies their flag.
India is a massive potential market for F1 and so having Indians interested in the sport is a great idea. One needs only to look back to see the interest that a successful driver can generate.
Before Michael Schumacher came along, F1 was a niche activity in Germany. Within a few years it had become the biggest sport in the country. The key is not simply about having someone there. It is about winning. People love winners.
Being a team owner in Formula 1 is not for the faint-hearted. You need very deep pockets. But money will not buy you success. If you want evidence of that, you need only to look at Toyota's F1 programme (2002-2009), which cost the Japanese automobile company an estimated $3 billion and resulted in not one single victory. Toyota learned that F1 is different to the car business. Money is no good without engineering expertise.
Like many industries, F1 expertise is clustered in a small area. If you want to be successful, you need to be there. In recent months, both the Marussia and Caterham teams have moved out of factories in other parts of Britain in order to move into premises in what is known as "Motorsport Valley". This area, in north London, centred on the city of Oxford, is to motor racing what Bollywood and Hollywood are to cinema; what Silicon Valley is to the computer world.
Go to the Black Forest in southern Germany and you will find a cuckoo clock cluster; go to Toulouse in France and you will find aerospace engineers; and go to Wall Street in New York and you will find financiers.
If you look at a list of F1 teams, you will see an impressive list of nationalities: Ferrari and Toro Rosso are Italian, McLaren, Williams and Lotus race under the British flag; Sauber is Swiss and HRT Spanish. On paper, Red Bull Racing is Austrian, Mercedes AMG Petronas is German, Force India is Indian, Caterham is Malaysian and Marussia is Russian.
Well, that is the official story. The truth is that if you walked into Red Bull in Milton Keynes or Mercedes in Brackley and started talking German, no one would understand you. If you went to Marussia and spoke Russian, they would look utterly bemused; and if you went to Force India and asked for an Indian, they would send you down to a restaurant in the nearby town of Towcester. Vijay Mallya has painted up his cars to look like the Indian flag, but the big companies of India, which ought to be his sponsors, are not taken in by the livery. Tata, for example, chooses to support Narain Karthikeyan at tiny HRT team, rather than pour money into Force India.
Not good enough?
Mallya has yet to employ an Indian driver in F1. He argues that none of them are good enough, but who is to say whether Narain could not do as good a job as Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta? You never know such things in F1 until you have tried them. This is not to say that all the teams are staffed with only Englishmen. F1 is a world where nationality is just not important. Ferrari's chief designer is Greek; Sauber's chief aerodynamicist is an Australian Dutchman; the CEOs of Lotus and Caterham are both French. The language spoken in the racing department at Ferrari, for example, is English.
Thus, one can argue, with conviction, that Monisha Kaltenborn, the team principal of Sauber, is a much better indication of how an Indian can be successful in F1. Survival of the fittest is the rule of the F1 jungle. Paint jobs come and go.
The writer has covered every GP in the last 25 years.