Will F1 put economy on fast track?

V. SUMANTRAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 31, 2011

The event was a success, but critics can be silenced only if this extravaganza leads to business spin-offs.

HYDERABAD (AP) -18-08-2010 -- ( WITH REPORT BY SOMA) - Dr. V Sumantran, Executive Vice Chairman, Hinduja Automotive & Director Board of Ashok Leyland . --PHOTO: P_V_SIVAKUMAR.   -  P_V_SIVAKUMAR

The past week saw a crescendo of media exposure leading up to India's first Formula 1 race — the Indian Grand Prix. For the resolute few who had nurtured this sport from its earliest days over five decades ago, this was a day for India to truly celebrate. Yet, justifiably, questions have been raised on the relevance of Formula 1 to India. So, as the orange sun was dimming in the hazy Delhi sky on Sunday, it was appropriate to ponder what all this really means.

First, we must recognise at least three manifestations of Formula 1 — as a pinnacle sport, a technology and auto-industry showpiece, and a global entertainment and media extravaganza.

As a sport, Formula 1 uniquely challenges brain and brawn. Take the physical strain, for example. An F1 driver typically loses about 3 litres of sweat and about 3-4 kg of weight over 90 minutes. Researchers have recorded sustained heart rates of over 150 beats per minute over this period and up to 240 beats per minute at the start. Drivers make about 100 gear-changes every lap for over 60 laps, each typically timed to be within a tenth of a second of its optimum.

At Buddh, drivers braked from over 280 km/h to less than 100 km/h, a bare 100 metres from the apex of the corner, enduring five times the gravitational force in deceleration. While doing this, they were managing throttle, braking and gear-shifts with a cockpit that combines the complexity of an aircraft and a sophisticated video game. All the while, their engineers in the pits, monitoring over 80 channels of telemetry, provide fresh inputs through their headsets: “...KERS position 5, DRS disabled this lap, Button plus 2..”.

Technology and glamour

Formula 1 has always revelled in its role as a technology tour de force. Imagine an engine, barely larger than that in a family car, capable of 800 horsepower. Consider that they run up to 18,000 rpm — which translates into 300 revolutions every second. Imagine pistons that rocket from rest to 90 km/h and then come to a complete stop all within four cm. Imagine a body-structure that weighs less than 100 kg and can protect the driver from a 180 km/h crash into a barrier. Formula 1 has also evolved from era to era reflecting societal and industry priorities. Engines have been downsized and while electric hybrid road-cars are still rare, most Formula 1 teams now employ KERS — a form of regenerating energy during braking.

It is also no coincidence that all the new destinations of Formula 1 are new global auto manufacturing centres and markets — China, Korea, Turkey and, now, India. Here, where auto manufacturing capacity crossed the annual one-million mark only a few years ago, it has now rocketed past the three-million figure.

Much of the new capacity at Maruti, Nissan and Hyundai is expected to also feed export markets. Honda, during its heyday in Formula 1, routinely rotated hand-picked technical staff through a tour of duty in Formula 1 — the exposure bred better and faster development. And while not all Formula 1 technologies have a direct bearing on the cars you can buy, they have a strong influence on technologies linked to driver aids — traction control, automated gear-shifts, etc.

Finally, few platforms offer the visible combination of glamour and technology as Formula 1 does. The races at Monaco, and now Abu Dhabi and Singapore, are major annual tourist events, attracting a huge number of foreign visitors and bringing global exposure to a degree that is seldom rivalled by any other sport.

I recall Tata's entry into Formula 1, with the sponsorship of India's first Formula 1 driver, Narain Karthikeyan. The global exposure gained by the brand was very timely. We now see many new Indian brands leveraging this forum.

Extravaganza justified?

As for the race, well, after the CWG episode, it was comforting to see things come together. The track, built to international standards, was described by drivers as technically challenging and very fast. Unlike in Korea, fans and corporates seem to have taken to the event with great enthusiasm. And the race was run very well, with the top three teams finishing in the top three positions.

So, where do we go from here? For India, any public expenditure or allocation of its assets must have as its result, common good. So, will this milestone lead to a more mature, globally competitive auto industry, creating more jobs? Will corporates such as Airtel, Sahara and Amul build upon this exposure to global sales conquests like Red Bull?

Will this emerge as an important tourism magnet? Will this be another step in India's slow but determined march to becoming an economic power to reckon with? If the answer is ‘yes', then we can justify this extravaganza. If we fail to capitalise on this investment, then the voices that question this indulgence would be justified.

(The author is Executive Vice-Chairman, Hinduja Automotive.)

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Published on October 31, 2011
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