India establishes as a growing sporting nation with F1

New Delhi: India`s stature grew in the world of sports after it successfully hosted its first ever Formula One Grand Prix this year but the drivers in the country continued to struggle in this glamorous and expensive sport.

It was indeed a big challenge to host an international motorsport event, especially after the beating the country took in the controversy-marred Commonwealth Games in the previous year.

But the organisers of the F1 event — Jaypee Group — erased those memories by setting up a stupendous racing facility and then delivering the race without any glitch.

The Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida came in for free-flowing praise from the leading drivers, including the double world champion Sebastian Vettel.

The grand spectacle could have been more appealing to the countrymen had Karun Chandhok also raced along with Narain Karthikeyan.

However, the Lotus side preferred business over emotions and went with the experienced drivers line-up instead of giving Chandhok a chance to race in his home GP.

Karthikeyan did all what he could within his limits by finishing the race on 17th position, ahead of Hispania teammate Daniel Ricciardo of Australia.

The season has ended but Karthikeyan is still not sure whether he will be retained by his side. Chandhok too has admitted that he might have to continue as a test and reserve driver with one of the teams.

In the whole 2011 season, Chandhok could race in just German Grand Prix and tested for Lotus in the entire season. Karthikeyan raced in the first eight races before being replaced by Ricciardo.

Later, under and internal arrangement, he was allowed to race before the home fans. F1 indeed is an expensive sport and teams rely heavily on sponsorships through drivers.

It makes the job of Karthikeyan all the more tough as not many business houses are willing to invest money in Indian drivers in this sport, considering their limited following in the country.

The Indian GP exposed Karthikeyan to the corporate world but how much it has helped him cannot be said as yet.

It will be huge challenge for both Chandhok and Karthikeyan to sustain their respective careers in the coming years.

Local outfit Force India, which did not have any Indian driver, had a reasonable outing at home GP with Adrian Sutil securing two points for the side with his ninth place finish.

The Vijay Mallya owned side got a huge fillip when Sahara Group decided to invest USD 100 million in it. The announcement was made just ahead of the Indian GP and the team was re-christened as Sahara Force India.

The team did extremely well by claiming the sixth position in the constructors` standing. It was an improvement by one place as compared to 2010 when Force India had finished seventh.

The team had four double-points finishes — Melbourne, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and at season-ending race at Brazil.

At the end of the year, team`s line-up has also changed with the axing of Sutil. The side promoted test driver Nico Hulkenberg to the racing seat to partner Paul di Resta.

Resta did a decent job in his rookie season by collecting 27 points and Mallya has a lot of confidence in his abilities and hence retained him.

"I am delighted to present our line-up for the 2012 season. In Paul and Nico we have two extremely talented drivers with tremendous potential. I think Paul caught the eye of everybody in the pit lane during his rookie season.

"His speed, maturity and race craft confirmed that we were right to believe in him and we look forward to working with him again next year. As for Nico, we identified him as a rising star at the end of 2010 and chose to evaluate him during the course of this season. Despite having only limited time in the car, he convinced us that he deserved a race seat for 2012," Mallya had said while making the announcement.

It was a harsh decision as Sutil had done a good job although he scored five points less than 2010. He was in top-10 in the drivers` standing whereas he was outside it in 2010 with 47 points.

The German saw the team changing from Midland to Spyker to Force India in 2008 and now Sahara Force India. In total, the 28-year-old scored 95 world championship points for the outfit in all these years.

Mallya recognised Sutil`s contribution in the side`s improving graph, saying, "Our new line-up means we say `goodbye` to Adrian Sutil, who has been with the team since we entered the sport. He has been an integral part of our success over the past four seasons and we wish him well for the future."

With the setting up of BIC in Uttar Pradesh, many motorsport events in the country are expected to move to North India from South, which has been a racing hub so far.

A lot of series are coming up and the sport is expected to attract more fans. If India could produce more Chandhoks and Karthikeyans, the money spent and efforts made to bring F1 to India would be worth the toil.