F1 driver Paul Di Resta of Sahara Force India F1 Team in action during the practice session at the Buddh International circuit in Greater Noida.(Vipin Kumar/HT photo)
While Formula One has seen action across the world since the 1950s, in India, motorsport had a humble beginning a few decades ago. Awareness and participation came from select centres in the south.
A big catalyst, which has recently made the sport a pan-India sensation, has been the construction of the Buddh International Circuit, and its subsequent addition on the F1 calendar since 2011. Corporate involvement in motorsport has also seen a sea change since this development took place.
We have been one of the few long-running corporate patrons of the sport for the last two decades. The biggest names in Indian motorsports — Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandhok, Armaan Ebrahim, Aditya Patel — have all come through our supply line.
However after F1 set its foot in India, a lot of other corporate houses have started cashing in on the growing popularity of the sport. This is, of course, a pure branding perspective of business involvement and viability of F1 in India.
The popularity of the sport is on the upswing and this can be clearly seen in the JK Tyre-Volkswagen Polo R Cup, which has over 20 different sponsors supporting the event. Each driver on the grid has funding from at least one sponsor.
The other aspect is just what an event like the Olympic Games can do for the development of a cities’ infrastructure — F1 coming to town sets the tone for a complete overhaul of infrastructure, which in turn aids the development of local business and increases awareness of the sport.
Greater Noida has seen a drastic transformation right in front of our eyes — it now has a world-class motorway, mushrooming hospitality centres and hotels and now the country’s largest auto expo has also been shifted to Greater Noida. It has become one of the best state-of-the-art motorsport facilities in the world.
The track, along with the development of several other facilities arising out of fresh demands across all levels of motorsport, has led to a surge in motorsport viewership and participation in India. This, in turn, also enhances the viability of corporate involvement in the sport to a much higher level. Big automotive companies are utilising the track, as is the global trend, for testing, R&D as well as unique customer engagement platforms, including driving skills challenges and other such engaging initiatives.
Dream come true
When had we thought that we would one day see the Aston Martins, Ferraris, Lamborghinis showcase their products in India? To think that a common man can now actually access and drive on the same track as the best racers in the world is a compelling thought.
The new infrastructure is also ‘nicely balanced’ between the north and the southern regions of the country, and has made it possible to hold domestic tournaments and championships of the stature comparable with global standards.
One such example is the JK Tyre Racing Championship, which now features at the Buddh Circuit, giving young drivers the same facilities as a Sebastian Vettel or a Lewis Hamilton.
In the recently concluded Round 3 of the Racing Championship hosted at the circuit, we had over 25,000 enthusiasts in the grand stand. Given that Formula One is not an Olympic sport, there is no support from the government in terms of funding. Hence, it’s solely up to the corporate harbingers to make efforts, pump in money, and develop the sport.
Traditionally F1 has become an R&D and branding exercise for significant automotive players from across the world. However today, F1, by itself, is a multi-billion dollar industry and has built a high aspiration value for corporates to be associated with — be it for brand building, recognition or recall.
Despite two recessions — and Formula One being touted as one of the most expensive sports — it has garnered new business opportunities and profitability each year. Many brands in India have been harbouring a dream to further the cause of the sport and create an environment for producing world-class race drivers and infrastructure to put the country on the global motorsport map.
Karting, which lays the foundation for F1 drivers, has also seen a sudden surge. An international karting track was laid recently in Noida, which hosted the grand finale of the 10th JK Tyre National Karting Championship 2013. It feels great to see a popular public destination putting a world-class karting facility in its midst.
While initially the sport belonged to people with deep pockets, it is attracting individuals from all walks of life and growing by leaps and bounds. One can only attribute this to F1 setting foot in India, and making an impression on the young minds. The Indian GP will be missing from the calendar next year, but we hope that the motorsport and F1 enthusiasts in the country quickly get back to watching their favourite sport live after its sabbatical.
I also hope that this rush and fervour continues and helps us discover more motor racing talent, which can make the country proud.
The Writer heads motorsports, JK Tyre and Industries Limited