Beyond the pit stops: India’s bittersweet history with Formula One!

Aishwarya Srinivasan
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India and Formula One

Over the past few years, the interest in Formula One amongst Indian audiences has increased rapidly due to various reasons, but very few know  about the entire history between India and F1!

There have been Formula One loyalists in India before the dawn of time, there’s no denying that. But 10 years ago, this surely wasn’t everyone’s go-to sport to watch on a Sunday; half the population weren’t even aware of Formula One. In 2019, Netflix decided to make a docu-series called ‘Drive to Survive’ which delved into the driver beyond the race track, the politics that take place behind the scenes, the fans, the crew, the craziness of it all. 2020 being the year when literally everyone was stuck at home looking for things to binge on, the series was the perfect fit for it. This is what drove a massive amount of fans to the sport. Some joined the bandwagon as they were intrigued but many started following it because of its really good looking drivers. Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton are a few hotties on the track who attract the women.

But before all the hooting, cheering and dissecting every race that happens every Sunday, as the whole paddock moves to different places in the world, holding different Grand Prixs, have you ever stopped and wondered why India isn’t a part of it anymore? Well, there’s a whole complex relationship between us and F1 that you might not know about! 

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India held three Grand Prix on the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida between 2011-2013. Although Formula One has been around for years, it took until 2011 to get to India because, before that, we didn’t have a good enough track to race on. In 2003, the FIA wanted to hold a Grand Prix on a track which was being made in Hyderabad, but with another one arising in Mumbai, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about where exactly we can host the sport, and pulling that off in three years was not something that we were equipped for at that point of time. 

In 2011, when finally the first Grand Prix was held, Sebastian Vettel won the race there. He subsequently also won in 2013 and 2014 where he won his championship right here in India, which makes the circuit forever special for the legendary driver, the Red Bull team and Indian fans of Formula One. But post 2014, it was rather sad that we could no longer hold another race here again due to the disputes between the Uttar Pradesh Government at the time and the FIA. The Government then didn't consider F1 as a sport and looked at it more as entertainment which made them levy heavy taxes on the Grand Prix. This was a huge inconvenience to the FIA as it became a rather expensive affair which led to them pulling out of the contract entirely. It’s bittersweet because, on one hand, it became a championship winning circuit and on the other, because of lack of acknowledgement on our part, we lost out on being a part of a sport that only went onwards and upwards after that.

sebastian vettel

While this is the history of what happened with the sport in India, we’ve had people from our country representing the sport globally as well. For instance, Vijay Mallya made his own Formula One team called ‘Force India’ in 2007 which won races and made a name for itself in the sport. But due to his legal allegations and debt, the team suffered quite a bit in terms of paying its staff and even the drivers. The last season for the team was in 2018. 

Then comes the question of how many Indian drivers have we had in the sport so far. Only two drivers from India could make it to Formula One. Narein Karthikeyan and Karun Chandok were names you often heard if you’ve been a fan since the early 2000s. Narein Kathikeyan made his debut in 2005 for Jordan. After the team was taken over by Midland, he was dropped and kept as a fourth driver for the Williams Team. He finally got a race seat in 2011 for HRT but was soon replaced by Daniel Ricciardo after seven races. He drove for HRT again in 2012 until he decided to end his Formula One career that season. 

formula 1

Karun Chandok also signed with HRT in 2010 but couldn’t hold his seat for the entire season. He signed with Lotus the following year, until he was replaced by Jarno Trulli and he too left the sport in 2011. Since then we’ve had the talented Jehan Daruvala rise in Formula Two and take seven podiums for India which includes two wins and two fastest laps. Seeing the kind of potential he has, we hope he can make it to Formula One soon as well!

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One thing you must know is that it's not at all easy to get into the sport. It's rather expensive if you want to be a driver and from a young age one has to practice on circuits which is not something everyone can afford. You need to have the right people by your side as well. But here’s hoping many budding drivers do come out of the sport in the near future. And with such a huge increase in views for the sport, Indian fans are desperately hoping for the return of the Indian Grand Prix and fix our strained relationship with the sport. 

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