Force India podium, giant leap for Indian motor sport?
India can boast of taking a major stride in Formula One after Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella drove from pole to second on the podium at the Belgium Grand Prix on Sunday.
The first points for the team owned by India’s liquor and airlines baron Vijay Mallya was a pleasant surprise, the team having failed to make an impact since it was launched ahead of the 2008 season.
The Indian media lapped up the news, indicating that F1’s popularity in India will only grow more rapidly as Indian fans gradually embrace the team as theirs.
Although home fans would have hoped an Indian driver had produced the achievement, India would still celebrate Fisichella’s success.
Indian F1 hopes were given a huge boost when Narain Karthikeyan was signed up by Jordan in 2005. However, an uncompetitive car and his lack of experience at the highest level meant India’s first F1 driver stayed very briefly in the limelight.
Karthikeyan’s subsequent role as a tester for Williams pushed him behind the scenes and he has now moved to the A1 Grand Prix, the world cup of motor racing, with his Formula One hopes all but over.
The Force India podium could not have come at a better time, as India gear up to stage an inaugural Grand Prix in 2011.
It comes after local media revealed this week that the sports ministry had refused a request to remit $36.5 million by JPSK Sports, the private company building the race track near New Delhi, to the Bernie Ecclestone’s British-based Formula One Administration.
The sports ministry felt Formula One was more entertainment and less sport and rejected the company’s request, but Mallya believes the decision, due to India’s exchange control regulations, is unlikely to prevent the 2011 Grand Prix.
Force India’s success will definitely lift the mood in Mallya’s camp as he was facing questions about the future of the team due to issues in his businesses.
However, Mallya can take credit for shuffling the management and taking direct charge of affairs earlier in the season, having refused to bow to sentiment while choosing the drivers.
He picked Fisichella to use his experience, alongwith German Adrian Sutil, ignoring Karthikeyan as well as the promising Karun Chandok.