London: Someone who has witnessed the frenzy and fascination around a Formula 1 race in India, it pains Karun Chandhok to see that interest in motorsport in the country has declined drastically. Not only the high-profile sport exited the country due to varied reasons, the agonising wait to see the next Indian in Formula 1 after Narain Karthikeyan and Chandhok continues.
Chandhok now ensures India’s small presence in the paddock as a pundit. The 39-year-old racer-turned-commentator badly misses the days when Formula 1 visited India and puts the steep decline in popularity of motorsport in the country down to lack of an Indian driver on the grid. “Honestly it’s been a bit of a disappointment, a bit of a shame about how much the interest has gone down actually.
“That period around 2008 to 2013 we had two Indians in F1, we had a team in F1, we had a race (Indian GP) and the interest was amazing. You can’t imagine that these days,” Chandhok told PTI in an interview on the sidelines of the Formula E season finale in London. Chandhok said while cricket gained massively from IPL in the last decade, motorsport badly needed a home-grown Formula 1 driver to sustain the interest.
“There’s been a big shift I think certainly the IPL is has gotten so much bigger. IPL in cricket has really exploded. You now have a cricket team that is doing exceedingly well in that 10-year period, the interest has gone up with that.
“So because of that, other sports are struggling a little bit but ultimately not having an Indian presence in F1 has had a negative impact on the sport as a whole” Chandhok said there are no clear answers why the interest from the fans is not what it used to be but not having the government backing is also a huge contributor to the sport’s downfall. “If you look at any of the recent countries that have backed motorsport, whether it’s Bahrain, Saudi Arabia even, and I’m choosing the Middle Eastern Asia, where the sport is growing. Singapore is another one who recognizes and understands what motor racing can bring to the country.
“The amount of tourists who now go to watch motor racing in these places is putting money back in the economy, and unfortunately, in Delhi, when we had the Grand Prix, we never really had the backing of the government. “It’s quite tough for the central government to do the the projects, maybe they can work with state governments.
The state governments as well as the central government need to get behind it.” Of late, Jehan Daruvala, Arjun and Kush Maini have competed in the Formula 1 feeder series like F2 and F3 but Chandhok was candid in admitting that the pinnacle was far away from the reach of the young Indian trio. “Jehan’s future is in Formula E. I can see him racing here with Mahindra next year, probably. Kush has done a very good job in his rookie season in F2 this year he’s done a some very strong races he was on the podium in Australia, but it’s tough at the moment for both of them to to make that last step into F1. “At the moment, it looks like it’s definitely not for next year.
We’ll see what happens in the future.” Daruvala, who was dropped from Red Bull’s junior driver program after three underwhelming seasons of F2, is now struggling in his fourth season in the championship. He is currently 11th in the standings with 53 points. “The season he’s had in an F2 this year, for him to make that step into F1 realistically, he would have needed to win the Championship this year. “At the moment he’s not there, in the points battle there are some other drivers who’ve gone ahead, so realistically for him to have a seat in F1 next year is quite hard.
“I think he’d be a very good candidate for the Formula E seat. He’s a very talented driver; he’s a very smart driver; also he thinks a lot about the strategy and the tactics in the race and that’s a useful tool to have in Formula E,” said Chandhok referring to the Mahindra reserve driver.
Talking about Formula E making its debut in India earlier this year, Chandhok hoped that organisers in Hyderabad will be able to do an even better job in 2024. “The Hyderabad event was very terrific, there were no real traffic issues, no issues in terms of the track safety and things like that, it was top notch “We had a bit of dust which is not a major problem I think. On the whole it was a good event .