DRIVER UPDATE : Formula V6 Asia : Karun Chandhok
Ten years ago, Formula One was predominantly a European affair. But a ban on tobacco advertisement and recession forced F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to look elsewhere for expansion.
In the current calendar, eight out of 20 races are in Asia (including Bahrain which was cancelled owing to unrest in that country). The F1 caravan will be making a stop in India for the first time on October 30 later this year, while South Korea was added to the list in 2010.
Given the growth of motorsport in Asia, the shift to the East was inevitable. Not only races, Asia has also been supplying drivers to the most expensive sport and teams such as Force India and Malaysia-based Team Lotus are already well established.
Team Lotus boss Tony Fernandes says the day when tracks in Europe will conduct a night or early morning race to please the Asian audience is not far away. “Motorsport is booming in the continent. Sponsors are ready to pour millions into the sport. Being the second most populous country with a vibrant economy, India offers great opportunities for F1 marketing. So Asia is where the future is,” said the owner of Air Asia, the world’s cheapest airline, in a telephonic conversation.
Lotus made their debut in 2010 along with two new entrants - Hispania and Virgin. After a decent performance in their first season (10th overall), Lotus are now focused on moving up the totem pole.
“Realistically, we want to be fighting in the midfield. The established teams that were ahead of us in 2010 were competing for points and we are gunning for the same,” added Fernandes, who has a strong Indian connection. Fernandes’s father was born in Goa and Air Asia operates from across the country.
While Vijay Mallya overlooked Indian talents for foreign drivers, Karun Chandhok found a taker in Lotus as a reserve driver. Fernandes said he has been monitoring Karun’s growth since his Formula Asia days. “His technical knowledge is amazing and he adds more value to the team,” he said.
Fernandes said the team is working out the possibility of putting Karun in the driver’s seat for the Indian GP. “It’s too early to confirm, but I can’t rule that out,” he informed.
As a run-up to maiden F1 event, Fernandes is planning to organise a demo run in Chennai with Karun behind the wheel. “I know Chennai is the motorsport capital of India. So fans would really enjoy it. Hope the roads are good enough for these sophisticated machines,” he signed off.
Prepared by C. Santosh Kumar