Thursday, August 11, 2011

Force India - Neither a Force nor India

I find it surprising to find a special mention in the sports pages of our newspapers about Force India's Adrian Sutil finishing at a lowly position etc etc in the Formula 1 race. It is surprising because Force India is not an Indian team despite the name.

When Dr. Vijay Malya announced buying the Spyker team, he had also announced that he would like to have Indian drivers and would give a call to Narain Karthikeyan. He then proceeded to try out several drivers during the winter testing. He also tried out Ralf Schumacher, the brother of the Great Michael Schumacher. Ralf had just been relieved from Toyota and he was looking for a drive. Narain was not even called for the trials.

What transpired between the day he announced the Spyker acquisition and a few days later and why Dr. Malya changed his mind is not known. However, he started harping that he is going for the best available drivers. If so, then he would have called Narain Karthikeyan for the trials and seen how capable he is.

Narain then moved on to the A1 GP and won races as well till the series got folded up. He then moved on to other racing series including Le Mans and Nascar.

Karun Chandhok got a chance to drive for the newly formed HRT team in F1. Prior to that there were many news items about the closeness of Karun's father Vicky with Dr. Malya. There were speculations that perhaps Dr. Vijay Malya is not too happy with Narain for some reason, so Karun has more probability to get a drive. However, even that speculation was proved to be wrong.

On the eve of the Silverstone race in 2011, Dr. Vijay Malya blasted Narain and Karun and said that India doesn't have good drivers. Dr. Malya was responding to a query of a journalist as to why he was not taking Indian drivers, when two of them are there in F1. Predictably, the two drivers hit back at hiim.

When one introspects, the reason becomes apparent.

The Formula 1 fan following in India was very less, till Narain Karthikeyan got a drive in 2005. That raised interest levels a lot. I have seen people who had never heard about Formula 1 watching the sport on TV. There were several others who bought a ticket to the race in Sepang in Malaysia to watch. Dr. Vijay Malya is a big fan of Formula 1 himself and had even got into a formula one car during a private test. He had been advertising in Formula 1 and finally when he found a good opportunity, he bought the Spyker team. The fan following in India slowly kept on growing since 2005.

And it is going to reach a crescendo, when India is going to host a Formula 1 race for the first time in 2011. And that's the main cause. With the race going to be held near Delhi (in Noida) in the Budh International Circuit, there would be phenomenal media coverage. Dr. Vijay Malya doesn't want to let go off the opportunity to en-cash on it. He wants to be the only Indian associated with Formula 1. So he doesn't want to share the glory with an Indian Driver.

It is sad that ego and narrow-mindedness is in ample display and Indian drivers are not even given a chance to prove their mettle in the Force India team. In fact, Dr. Malya talking negatively about Narain and Karun is also harming their prospects as drivers.

It is sad that journalists in India are unable to see through this and are promoting Force India.

If the journalists are still not convinced, then can they tell me why Force India calls UK as its home race? It has its factory in UK, mechanics and other staff based there. The only connection with India is the name "Force India" and Dr. Malya.

It should be known that Dr. Vijay Malya is a liquor baron owning some of the large liquor companies. In India where there is a ban on advertising of liquor, they launch products with the same name and do the advertising. For example, Kingfisher beer can't be advertised, so they sell Kingfisher packaged drinking water. No wonder that the idea of surrogate advertising is employed in the Force India name as well - where a team that has no connection with India is branded Force India.

Narain Karthikeyan was the first Indian to race in formula 1. He was driving in HRT in 2011 till Daniel Ricciardo took his seat due to Red Bull sponsorship. Narain has already proved that he is faster than Daniel Ricciardo during practice. Narain is still scheduled to drive the HRT car, probably in place of Vintanio Luizzi in India. Karun has got an one off race to drive in the Team Lotus car. He may also get to drive in India, if Tony Fernandes, the team owner of Team Lotus decides that he can get some mileage. The Indian GP may provide more spice if both the Indian drivers get a chance to drive in India.