There has been considerable amount of rumors that has been flowing around for the last couple of weeks regarding the future of this Anglo Indian Team. Force India however have denied the allegations that the team’s future is in doubt, and this comes at a time when the identity of their second driver is yet to be announced. But we have to wonder if the time is ripe for the team to hire an Indian driver.
Force India have long stated that they would prefer a driver with talent than ‘Money’. There has been different versions of statement coming in from the Force India camp for quite some time now. Initially, it was Mallya who stated that, it was his dream to see an Indian, driving for his team and that he always wanted to promote Indian Motorsports. Even when there was a wild rumor that Mallya was going to purchase the struggling Spyker team, the top two Indian drivers were connected to the seat and both of them had indicated that there was high possibilities of either of them going behind the cockpit.
Sadly though, Mallya later clarified that the current breed of Indian drivers aren’t good enough for Formula 1. This created a stir of controversy, both at the International league, and also at the Indian Motorsport League. The top two drivers of the Country were highly disappointed with the developments, and were vocal against Mallya for the issue.
“The fact remains, right now no Indian driver is good enough for Formula One, Force India carries the hope of a billion and I too would love to have an Indian driver but he must be good enough. There is no rule, even though some people propagate otherwise, that you have to have a driver of particular nationality. We need only the best drivers to get the maximum performance”
It has always been fair on the part of the drivers, Mallya was vocal against Narain and Karun without even giving a chance to test their skills. At the time of Force India taking over Spyker, as much as 7 drivers were given a chance to test for one seat, but none of the Indian drivers featured in the list. Towards the end the 2010 season, when the whole issue was forgotten, rumors were that Mallya put the Indian drivers in the McLaren simulator. The results weren’t announced, and no proper communication had happened from the team nor the drivers.
And now, as we head into the 2013 season, Force India hasn’t confirmed either of its drivers. Although Paul di Resta is expected to be confirmed, the decision on the second seat might be announced only ahead of the first test.
The Indian Breed: Might not be a bad bet.
Irrespective of what they have done on the track, both Karun Chandhok, and Narain Karthikeyan have a mighty fan following across the country. Karun Chandhok has honed his skills as a commentator over the last year or so, and has gained more fan following across the globe in the last year. Post the Force India saga that these two have got into, a lot have happened to these drivers. It was around this time, that Karun made his debut at HRT in 2010, and subsequently moved over to Caterham for a third driver role where he even substituted for Trulli at the German Grand Prix in 2011. Chandhok failed to secure a seat for 2012 and decided to switch his focus elsewhere. Narain Karthikeyan meanwhile has made a comeback to Formula 1 in 2011 where he took part in 9 races through the season and competed the entire season in 2012 for HRT. The demise of HRT means that Narain is now without a drive, and in his last public statement has indicated that there will be several round of talks with several teams, and that he might be forced to look beyond Formula 1.
Both of them, have their own story to tell, given the circumstances that they were into, both of them done exactly what was expected of them on track, and despite no major results or being overshadowed by their teammates, it was a long story to be retold. Although it could be argued, and that opinions vary with people, Karun and Narain deserve another chance in Formula 1. Lots of people have criticized Narain for his inability to outpace his much experienced teammate Pedro de la Rosa in Qualifying, but for more than half a time, Narain had to give his his seat away to a third driver in Friday Practice sessions. Karun was criticized for being slow at German Grand Prix in 2011 where he replaced Trulli for a one off race. But it has to be understood that Karun had far limited track time in the car, and in most of the occasions that he drove, rain interrupted his proceedings and luck wasn’t on his side.
Back in October, When Lewis Hamilton participated in some PR activities across the country, He suggested that Narain Karthikeyan can do well at Force India, and this forced Robert Fernley to confirm that Narain Karthikeyan won’t feature in the list of candidates when the team sits down to finalise the driver for 2013.
“It is unfortunate that Narain is driving a slow car. Probably, it would do wonders if he were in Sahara Force India which is a pretty good team.” - Lewis Hamilton
"Narain is an exceptionally competent driver, If we put him in our car this weekend he could do better. But with all due respect to Narain, can he compete with and outperform our drivers? It is not his fault because he's not had the opportunity that our drivers have had. Unfortunately that is the way it is” - Robert Fernley
This is the reason, that a simulator session or a proper testing has to be done by Vijay Mallya to assess these drivers. A third driver’s role for either of these drivers won’t be a bad bet to assess them. For the last couple of seasons, it has been Force India’s tradition to use the third driver extensively throughout the season, and then graduate him for the race seat. Even this season, Jules Bianchi is the frontrunner to replace Hulkenberg.
While age might not favor Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandhok can be tried and tested in that role of the test driver, and Karun himself has admitted that he would be interested in the offer.
Someone abroad asked me if the Top Two Indian drivers would accept an offer from Mallya and would Mallya make an offer to these Indian drivers inspite of the huge differences that they had in the past. Although, it’s Business on one side, Indians have a mojo of forgetting and forgiving, be it any major disturbance in the country, from inflation to other incidents. We would forget and ‘move on’. While any other country would retaliate upon being attacked, We would look at the options, like cutting the Cricket ties with the attackers or any peace options.
While there are talks of only Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, Vijay Mallya can make a decision out of the box by offering an unknown face a long term contract. Apart from the Indian teens who are a part of Force India driver’s academy, there are couple of other eligible candidates who can fill on an ambitious contract.
Drivers like Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel are youngsters with plenty of potential. Armaan Ebrahim has driven in variety of series in lower categories and recently he took part in Indy Lights. Someone like Armaan, Could serve as a long term protegee of Force India.
An Indian behind a wheel, has a long term benefits:
Given the current economic conditions where Talent isn’t preferred unless you are incharge of a Top team, Time is really running out for Force India. The Team enjoys a massive fan following across the country, but you have to wonder, if they have a long term future.
For once referred to as ‘King of Good Times’, Mallya’s companies have been taking a hit especially the fact that his most ambitious dream project, Kingfisher airlines is now grounded, and that’s causing massive hole in his pocket. His son Siddharth Mallya have stated that, he prefers Cricket over Formula 1. Sahara India, like the Mallya’s UB Group, is an Indian conglomerate sponsoring multiple sports across India. But unfortunately Sahara India has been battling cases at the apex court of India, and aren’t at the best financial position that they would prefer.
Force India have attracted many investors during its first year, but eventually found lack of takers as the seasons progressed. For now, much of sponsors are backed by UB Group and Sahara India. This attracts rumors and gossips which adds more injury to the wound. I am not a best financial critic, but for someone who is constantly rumored to be in bad financial position, I am not sure if that will attract more investors or divert the interested parties.
This is when, an Indian in the team attracts more financial stability. An Indian of some form, even as a third driver would attract suitable investors. Both Narain and Karun have rumored to have brought in sizable amount from their respective sponsors whenever they were offered a drive. Karun Chandhok at the time of his debut, has stated that the Indian companies aren’t sure of sponsoring an Indian driver or the Indian team, and this hasn’t helped either of them.
As of now, other investors are needed at this Anglo Indian team to secure the long term future and vision of this friendly bunch of people at the Silverstone factory. Mallya has been running this team out of his person interest but time might be fast approaching, when he would call it a day. Formula 1 can’t really afford to lose yet another team, when the option to secure a long term future exists, Hope the respective parties pick the best option.
Meanwhile, there has been a rumor in the Indian Motorsport fraternity that an Indian driver would make his debut in Formula 1 in 2014, and that the respective team has given the principal nod. Sources indicate that Force India is the team, although the identity of the driver is not revealed.