Motorsports in India has come a long way from Sholavaram to the Buddh International Circuit and while we did face some challenges, I am sure the end result will be worth it when the world gets to see the five red lights go out on October 30.For years, Indian motorsports fans have harboured the desire to bring F1 to India, with plans starting way back in 1997. Bernie Ecclestone, the primary authority in Formula 1 racing, has been keen on a race in India for over a decade and has been very insistent that we have a race here. We have looked at Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, New Delhi and have finally landed at Noida, and am sure this is our final stop. I also feel that India's economic growth and its young, aspirational demographic profile also played a big part in us bagging the event.
With the F1 race taking place, I am confident that motorsports in the country will get a huge boost from all quarters. F1 viewership in India has gone up astronomically in the last five years. I am told there are 27 million viewers of the sport in India and we need only 0.5 per cent of that to fill the circuit's capacity of 1.20 lakh.
We have many racing categories and the driver pool has become a lot more competitive. We have a lot of automobile manufacturers that have played an integral role in developing the sport in India including Ford, Maruti Suzuki and Volkswagen. With the Indian GP, we are hoping to get more support from the manufacturers, besides more funding to develop the sport.
We will have to ensure that we use the Indian GP as a platform to develop motorsports from the grass-root level and focus on improving our standards and infrastructure. Everything in motorsports stems from F1, so if we can make this event a success, I'm sure the results will resonate into the lower Formula categories as well. F1 is a spectacle like no other and draws crowds from different parts of the world. If you look at Singapore or Monaco, tourism during the GP week is normally the highest for the whole year.
A good marketing platform
India is rapidly becoming one of the most important and powerful players in the world of business, culture and sport. The Indian GP is probably one of the largest privately hosted sporting events in India and, more importantly, this is not a one-off event. This is not like the cricket World Cup or a Commonwealth Games which comes to India infrequently; this is an event which will take place every year and so is a perfect platform for companies to build their brand on a long-term basis.
Motorsport has always been popular in the country but our biggest challenge has always been funding, so I now hope that more corporates step forward and see the benefits in being associated with the sport. Almost all manufacturers and sponsors involved in F1 are selling their products in India as well. So, from a commercial point of view, it makes perfect sense.
However, winning in F1 is not about how big your budget is; it is about getting the right team together and extracting the maximum out of them all. Both Renault (2005-06) and Red Bull have proved that this can be done if you get the right people together and create a winning combination. From the manager to the drivers to the engineers to the pit crew, it's all about getting the right combination together. Since 2004, we have had six different champions in F1, so the trend has definitely changed. I don't think we will ever see Michael-esque (seven times world champion, Michael Schumacher) domination in the near future, but if you look at the Vettel-Red Bull combinations it definitely does seem possible. With the existing regulations, it will not be as easy and if you see the grid we have some of the best drivers.
Building a firm foundation
While we have drivers in almost all categories of racing across the globe, until we give them a good foundation, the road to the higher echelons of motorsport will always be tough. It has taken Narain and Karun years to achieve what they have done and they mostly enhanced their skills by racing in international series. We have to improve our domestic racing series in order to prepare our young drivers for the international championships. The road to F1 is a long one and as long as the youngsters have a good foundation, I am confident they will be a success. F1 will open the door for more of the top championships to come to India including the MotoGP, Indycar, NASCAR and DTM.
F1 as a sport has expanded rapidly and this is all due to the vision of one man, Bernie Ecclestone, who wanted to make this a global sport rather than a European one. Apart from Brazil, F1 has predominantly been a European sport with most races being held around the Continent. However, the last decade has seen a shift, with half of the races being held in Asia — Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, India, Singapore, and China. It is clear that Asia is becoming stronger and many of these countries are moving from developing to developed nation status. Companies are seeing more interest from Asia, not only for sales but for their R&D as well, and, hence the focus is shifting here.
At the end of the day, it is imperative for any sport to expand to reach out to more people and F1 has such a mass appeal that this will continue to happen.
(The author is a veteran of the Indian motorsport fraternity and has participated in over 600 races and rallies since 1972, including Formula 3. He is President, Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, and the son of Indu Chandhok, one of the founders of the Madras Motorsports Club. His son Karun is currently with F1 Team Lotus)