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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Dec 2014

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Formula One's success has brought everyone on board
Narain Karthikeyan
December 24, 2011
First Published: 00:22 IST(24/12/2011)
Last Updated: 00:26 IST(24/12/2011)
HRT-Cosworth driver Narain Karthikeyan smiles during the 3rd practice session of Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. (HT Photo by Virendra Singh Gosain)

If I'm not mistaken, it was little more than an year ago when it was confirmed that the Indian GP would definitely be a part of the 2011 calendar and, truth be told, I could hardly believe it.

It was only when I walked into the Buddh International Circuit on the Friday of the race weekend and subsequently drove out of the pitlane, that reality hit home - we had finally done it. However, the race was not just a symbol of India breaking into the top echelon of the sport and its success not merely a testament to our country's ability to host an event as technologically cutting-edge as Formula 1.

Matching popularity
It was also a harbinger of the fact that motorsport could finally aspire to reach levels of awareness that cricket enjoys in our country - making people sit up and take notice instead of thinking that it is just cars going round in circles.

Racing had become the pulse of the nation during the GP week and it is possible to carry forward that momentum to ensure that motorsport at all levels reaps benefits even after the F1 circus has departed the country.

Even before the chequered flag came down for the Indian GP, it was apparent that the corporate world - everyone from car-makers to apparel companies and even the media - wanted a piece of Formula 1.

It was certainly a good sign, with announcements from car manufacturers, portraying themselves as performance and motorsport-oriented companies, quickly following.

Corporate involvement
Even Hero Motors, who are comparatively new to the world of motorsport following their association with me, have shown further affinity to the sport by bringing in carbon-fibre technology to bicycles.

Mahindra's involvement in MotoGP is well-known and now they have stepped things up a notch by taking development of young Indian riders, good for MotoGP, onto themselves.

These manufacturer-backed racing series will give aspiring racers a chance to see if they have what it takes to perform at a higher level, and help them assess their level of talent, capability and commitment to take up racing as a profession without going into uncharted waters and spending a fortune competing abroad - as was the case when I started out.

Those who perform well in these championships will definitely have further incentive as the manufacturer may choose them to move up the ladder, as almost all carmakers have some involvement in racing at higher levels. So, it is a win-win situation for everyone.

This is extremely critical as, till now, there was no definite progression ladder for a racer to look at and it was more a case of 'take it as it comes'.

But now, with a clear target ahead, the motivation for drivers to push from the get-go will be much higher. That is something which we need to imbibe if we wish to produce world-class drivers.

Track side
However, there is another factor, in addition to success and visibility garnered by the Indian GP, which may have lured these companies into investing in motorsport.

It is the infrastructure, which comes in the form of the Buddh International Circuit.

Our previous two racetracks, in Chennai and Coimbatore, have been great breeding grounds for our racers, including me.

However, corporates prefer working in more sterile and accessible facilities. So, the Buddh Circuit is tailor-made for them, since a venue, which is good enough for Formula 1, should be good enough for anybody.

Apart from these corporate ventures, there is a private effort that deserves a mention as well.

Although a lot has been written and speculated about the prospect of my association with the i1 Super Series, it isn't within the scope of this context.

Chance to learn
The fact is, i1 organisers definitely deserve credit for what they have achieved so far - bringing in some of the most famous names in the history of the sport and mixing them up with Indian talent.

We'll have to wait and see how things turn out once the opening season is past, but for the young drivers, competing against world-class drivers of known quality, it can be a great measure of their own potential and should give them a chance to learn from some of the best in the business.


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