It was finally a good time to go to the Force India team building. After all they were holding a press conference with an Indian driver; albeit one far from the upper echelons of the sport just yet.
This writer has never been able to embrace the concept of Force India being an Indian team sans one of us in the driver’s seat. The team envisioned that performance alone would be enough to get Indian fans backing them akin to Italians and Ferrari. The performance graph has been credible enough but just how many of team principal Vijay Mallya’s countrymen will throng the stands rooting for Force India is a debatable point.
Mallya narrowed down on three young karters to groom after a sporadic selection process. But the commitment of 15-year-old Jehan Daruvala and support from Force India has seen the teenager earn the distinction of being the first Indian to win a credible British karting championship.
While the boy was diplomatic enough to say Force India pays for everything, his family takes care of about a fifth of his karting expenses and his boarding school, Haileybury, in Hertfordshire near London.
However, what Mallya is providing the youngster is an incredible platform. Daruvala has access to team driver Paul di Resta’s trainer and what’s heartening is that he already realises “physical fitness is key to racing”. Then, the sheer motivation of being groomed by an F1 team would lend wings to any young racer’s drive. “His commitment is incredible,” says Mallya. That’s also heartening.
Daruvala sat facing possibly a far larger contingent of press than he ever had.
His feet were in a constant twitching motion and his body language with arms draped around the chest clearly showed his defences were up. As of now he is just 15 and uncomfortable in the glare. But brave enough to take them on. Actually, he looked as ill at ease as Narain Karthikeyan did when he first came up to the level of facing the press. Let’s hope he has the same mettle to weather the swings of a racing career.
India’s pioneer F1 driver has great confidence in the young lad’s ability. “Good performance in karting is the foundation of being a solid driver in the bigger league. No other Indian has come close to achieving what he has at his age. If he manages to show this kind of potential when he switches to cars, the sky is the limit,” said Narain.
Meanwhile, Daruvala seems to be level headed fellow with little flair for expansive words. If his deeds speak loud enough and Force India continues to be in F1 while grooming him on the side, there may well be merit to Mallya’s long-standing assertion that he will produce the next Indian F1 driver. Till that happens it will stay difficult to really accept Force India as a truly Indian team.