The Sahara Group has a long-standing reputation for supporting Indian sportsmen. The Sahara Sports awards are a unique initiative to recognise and felicitate Indian sporting talent. Unlike most corporate giants, Sahara's sponsorship deals extend way beyond cricket.
As such, it is with a certain sense of incredulity that one heard Subrata Roy being evasive on the subject of Indian drivers for the recently rechristened Sahara Force India team. The man who is seen as a father figure by many Indian sportsmen did not seem eager to give our F1 representatives Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok a chance in the Force India car. He appeared to be convinced that Force India has carefully chosen ten potential drivers who will be groomed for the future.
Not the right way
Perhaps the Sahara Group is not aware of the manner in which the ten were selected. After all, four-stroke, seven BHP karts which barely nudge the 60kph mark, aren't the best way to spot fresh talent.
Two of India's best tracks, Coimbatore's Kari Speedway that has conducted international events, and Hyderabad's MMS-JK Kartainment, which is up to international standards, were not even used.
That some of the tracks were concrete instead of tarmac makes it all the more strange as experts don't even advocate competition racers driving on concrete since the whole manner of handling the kart is different.
Further, 'selections' stretched through the day and varying track and temperature conditions, not to mention tyre wear, were not factored into the final result. After all, a hot track will always be slower than a cold one. So, the guy who had his turn in the morning would be quicker.
Then, Force India (FI) chose to ignore the world-class two-stroke Rotax karts that are already racing in India and have a top-speed of about 115kph. That final selection clashed with a round of the Indian National Racing Championship ensured that some of the guys, who are already racing, just chose to stay away.
Get that Indian
FI team principal Vijay Mallya has maintained for some time now that there is no Indian driver good enough to sit in his team's car. He has not even offered the two Indians a test, forget a test driver spot. All along he has maintained that Force India is an Indian team even though not even a mechanic in that outfit is from this country. Then, even though he is chairman of the national federation, he has dismissed Indian drivers in press statements internationally.
Look at examples from Germany and Spain. Despite having F1 circuits, the following in those countries exploded only after Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso came around. Do the British people love McLaren or is it Lewis Hamilton that they adore more?
On Monday, Sahara launched its 'Raise the flag' campaign to garner support for the team. All such campaigning would be redundant if only there was an Indian behind the wheel. An Adrian Sutil or a Paul di Resta can't get Indian hearts abuzz no matter what livery they wear. Sahara needs to get this basic right.