Saturday, October 29, 2011

Inspired Performance by Narain Karthikeyan in Indian Grand Prix

The Formula One Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida witnessed history being created when Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok participated in the First Practice. Narain is driving for HRT team in this Grand Prix and Karun Chandhok who is a test driver with Team Lotus was given the chance to drive in the First Practice of the Indian Grand Prix.

As Narain has been saying for a long time, it was an emotional moment for him to drive infront of the home audience. Though Narain hasn't driven a race since July when he was replaced by the Red Bull funded Daniel Ricciardo, Narain has shown his pace. At the end of First Practice, as per the Official  news Daniel Ricciardo was 1 m 33.928 seconds and "Karthikeyan was respectably close at 1m 34.113s". It would be pertinent to mention that having track time is very important. One can't just jump into a formula 1 car and be fast. You need lot of time in the car. This fact is reiterated by many Formula 1 drivers like Johnny Herbert ( check for his quote here ) and three time Formula 1 champion Nikki Lauda

In the Second Practice, Narain was even closer to Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo was 1m 32.768s with Narain only 0.056 seconds slower. It was an impressive showing considering Narain has been so long out in the wilds.

In the Third Practice on saturday morning, Narain Karthikeyan was 22nd fastest with a time of 1m 39.900 seconds, Jerome Ambrosio of Virgin at 1m 32.851s ad Daniel Ricciardo of HRT at 1m 32.246s. This has been a very impressive weekend for Narain. If Narain continues with such impressive showing in the Qualifying later today and in the Race tomorrow, then we can safely predict that many more corporates and people will get excited and will start following Formula 1. When a large economy like India starts putting its weight behind Formula 1, it will change Formula 1 for the better.

EDIT: Narain Karthikeyan finished 22nd in the Qualifying however he could not have the satisfaction of beating his teammate Dainel Ricciardo as he was just 0.022 seconds ie. just 22nd thousandth of a second slower than Ricciardo. Narain clocked a time of 1m 30.238seconds  vs 1m 30.216 seconds of Ricciardo.
Jerome D' Ambrosio and Timo Glock of  Virgin racing finished 23rd and 24th.

EDIT 2: Race Result
Narain Karthikeyan had an excellent race. He had a good start and despite a contact with Jarno Truli in the opening lap, he was running as high as 15th in the early stages of the race. Narain Karthikeyan finished at 17th in the race ahead of his highly rated teammate and RED bull protegee Daniel Ricciardo. Jarno Truli of Team Lotus finished 19th. If he would not have had the penalty slapped on him for blocking Michael Schumacher during qualifying, then definitely he would have had a better race. He said "It is an awesome feeling to have completed the first ever Indian Grand Prix and to have bveen competitive with our main rivals which proved a lot of points".

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Formula 1 is all about Money Honey!

F1 is all about Money, Honey!

Formula One is all about money. First and foremost, Formula one is a business and then it is motorsports. 

This principle has been proved time and again and the formula one teams make no effort to hide it.

Driver Contracts:
In the last few days, this adage has been proved once again by the HRT team. Narain Karthikeyan was the first driver to be signed by the HRT team and at that time Narain Karthikeyan was quoted as saying that his contract is for the entire season. However, just before Silverstone race, Narain Karthikeyan was dropped by HRT team and Daniel Ricciardo was brought in with sponsorship from Red Bull. At that time, it was known that Narain Karthikeyan will return to the HRT cockpit for the Indian Grand Prix.

Liuzzi had earlier mentioned that he has contract for the entire season so there was no question of Narain replacing him in the Indian Grand Prix. Daniel Ricciardo during his promotional demonstration for Red Bull in New Delhi had said that he expected to sit out for Narain as it is contractual and had said that he would take part in the first practice on Friday. However, HRT team has now issued a statement that it will be Liuzzi who will sit out in the Indian Grand Prix.

With so much of money riding in on Daniel Ricciardo - who is highly valued by the Red Bull team and is expected to replace one of their drivers from the Torro Rosso team – it is natural that Daniel Ricciardo gets to drive in Indian Grand Prix and Tonio Liuzzi is replaced by Narain. It is purely a case of money, and contracts are never a obstacle in Formula 1. In Cricket they say, Records are meant to be broken. Similarly, in Formula 1 they say, Contracts are meant to be broken.

Interestingly, Vintanio Liuzzi who was driving for Force India team in 2010 had a valid contract to drive in 2011. However, the Vijay Mallya led team decided to give chance to the Mercedes backed Paul DiResta and decided that it was lucrative to replace and compensate Vintanio Liuzzi.

Name change:
The formula one teams routinely try to interpret the clauses to get some extra amount of money. The formula one rules state that the Formula One teams can change their name subject to ratification by all the other teams. Though this clause was created to stop any team from infringing on the brand name of another, the teams routinely try to use this clause to stop other teams from changing their names. For example, even after BMW exited the sport, the Sauber team continued to use the BMW name else, they would have forfeited the prize money. Similarly, Renault exited the sport after the team was indicted of deliberately conspiring with its driver Nelso Piquet Jr. to crash in Singapore race. So though Genii capital became the majority shareholder, the team still bears the name Renault. Recently, the Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn also shared his view on this topic and said that a few teams want to derive benefit out of this issue.

Team orders aka Match Fixing:
Each team in formula one is allowed to have two drivers and team orders were banned. So technically one driver of a team cannot be asked to move aside to give way for his team mate. In the past, teams used to send coded messages to their driver to give room for their higher ranked fellow driver to pass. However, recently the team order controversy has been given a burial as FIA has legalized team orders saying that it is difficult to implement. So what amounts to match fixing in other sports, is a routine thing in formula 1. In the commercial world of Formula 1, money comes first and sport later. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

F1 circuit planned in Mumbai

Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation has appointed a consortium to prepare the masterplan and business case for a new multi-purpose race circuit and regeneration project in Mumbai. This consortium has experience of designing the 2012 Olympic stadium and the new layout of the Silverstone track. They have to identify potential locations in and around mumbai which can have several associated developments leading to regeneration of Mumbai. They will also create a business case for the longterm financial viability of this circuit and will also keep the social and environmental aspects in mind. The consortium will work closely wit FIA and FIM, the governing bodies for Formula 1 and motorcycling respectively.

Considering that several countries have two venues, India too can have two venues. With a population of 1.21 billion, India can very well have two circuits and have races in the same year. The Budh International Circuit which will have its first race on 30th October 2011, is in North India in the state of Uttar Pradesh and the circuit in Mumbai, if it happens, being located in the west in the state of Maharashtra will be more than 1000 kms apart and will be able to be financially successful.

Team Lotus sells minority shareholding to Indian Investor

Team Lotus which is currently placed 10th in the Forumla 1 Grid and is owned by Tony Fernandes of Air Asia and his partners is likely to announce a deal to sell a minority stake. It is said that Gaurav Burman, who is the younger son of former Dabur India Chairman V C Burman has invested about 10 million USD and acquired a minority stake. In the next two or three years he is supposed to scale up his share holding to around 50% by investing about 50 million USD.

Gaurav Burman is married to controversial Lalit Modi's step-daughter and is a director in the AIM listed equity fund Elephant Capital Plc. He is also a Co-owner in the Kings XI Punjab team. This investment is likely to result in more interest generation in motor sports in India. Whether this investment is likely to result in Karun Chandhok getting a drive in the Inaugural Indian Grand Prix is yet to be seen.

This investment confirms that staging a Formula 1 race in India is proving to be beneficial to the entire Formula 1 as a sport. Sahara group has already bought 42.5% stake in the FI team. Tata Motors, Hero Motors, Base Batteries, MRF Tyres are sponsors of Narain Karthikeyan. Amul is sponsoring Sauber for the Indian Grand Prix. After watching the inaugural Grand Prix, there are likely to be many more corporates jumping into the Formula 1 bandwagon. The huge crowds and viewership of F1 is going to have its own pull.
There are exciting times ahead. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sachin Tendulkar doesn't support Indian Driver

Sachin Tendulkar - the God of Cricket - will neither support his friend Michael Schumacher nor India's only driver in the Indian Grand Prix Narain Karthikeyan, but will root for Sahara Force India team which has majority ownership with Indian groups Sahara and UB. Sachin said that he is excited about the Indian Grand Prix. "I will support the Force India Team. I have friends like Michael Schumacher but I will support Force India because it is an Indian team and the country comes first".

Whereas Sachin supporting an Indian team is logical, however, it seems he is improperly briefed as the Force India aka Sahara Force India cannot claim to be an Indian team as the only thing Indian is the majority ownership. See my earlier article on this issue titled "Force India: Neither Force nor India"  The question is if UB group buys a Pakistani team and names it Super Force India or something like that, will we agree that it is an Indian team? Force India has nothing to do with India, except that its majority ownership is Indian and they are eyeing sponsorship from India. Its the Indian money they are after and nothing else. Neither they employ many Indians nor do they take Indian drivers. Just to divert the issue of not taking Indian drivers, the FI Team Principal has started a cart competition in small cement tracks.

After Sahara group's recent take over of 42.5% ownership, the policy of No Indian drivers remains. Read No Indian drivers for Sahara Force India ( )

In this scenario, it is unfortunate that a man of integrity and patriotic Indian who always values India above everything else, has been made to believe that the Sahara Force India team is an Indian team. Sachin Tendulkar has been cheated into believing that he is supporting an Indian Team. If they can cheat Sachin Tendulkar, that means that their propaganda machinery is working well. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Formula 1 : Sports or entertainment

Formula 1 has not been recognised as a sport in India by the Ministry of Sports. The Jaypee group which has built the racing circuit had secured an exemption from paying entertainment tax from the Governmet of UP.

In a twist to the tale, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court of India against granting of exemption from paying entertainment tax. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has now directed the respondent Jaypee Group to deposit 25% of the ticket sales in a special bank account till the court decides on the matter.

Earlier, BJP Youth leader and Member of Parliament Varun Gandhi too had raised his voice against the exemption granted by the UP Government. He had said that Formula 1 is like wrestling in WWF, which is stage manged and is not a sport in the true sense.

Though comparison with WWF may be a bit of hyperbole, there is a large majority who agree that with team orders being legal in Formula 1, one doesn't see true racing and hence may not be classified as a true sport like athletics. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Base Batteries unveils battery for HRT Formula one car

Base batteries had earlier announced its tie up with HRT team due to Narain Karthikeyan driving for it. Today, in a glittering ceremony in New Delhi, Base battery finally launched its battery for Formula 1 Cars and it was unveiled by India's First Formula 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan. Base Batteries became the first Indian Battery manufacturer to become the official supplier of a Formula 1 Car.

The battery specs were listed as 114mm x 39mm x 87mm (LxWxH) at 12V, 2.3 amperes and weighing 0.9 kg. The batteries have got improved charge recovery capability from near or deeply discharged conditions. It has got a longer shelf life and as is expected the batteries can withstand extreme vibrations. The battery uses silver instead of lead and that is supposed to give higher performance and being better for the environment. The R&D budget for developing this battery is supposed to be to the tune of 3 million USD. It is to be seen whether this battery will be fitted to the HRT car during the coming Indian Grand Prix.

Colin Kolles, the HRT Team Principal said "We are confident that the innovative design and the world class technology that Base Batteries bring to the HRT race car is in sync with our ambitions to excel. We are looking forward to a long standing and wonderful partnership with Base Batteries in the coming years. "

With the sponsorship, albeit for one race by Hero Motors, if Narain Karthikeyan is able to do well in the Indian Grand Prix, then many sponsors will get convinced to sponsor HRT. Oct 30th is going to be a watershed day in the history of Indian Motor Sports.

Monday, October 17, 2011

For Narain Focus is the word

Narain Karthikeyan recently said "My focus right now is solely on the Indian GP. I would like to stay in F1 but I am not preoccupied with those thoughts; there are a whole lot of other factors that will play a part in deciding my future. Once we have the Indian GP out of the way, thinking about the future will be much easier".

Narain had shared similar thoughts after driving in the First Practice in Korea which was a wet practice due to rains. Certainly, one should learn from these Forumla 1 drivers the ability to concentrate and focus on the job in hand rather than worrying and getting scared about the future.

It is also true that if Narain does well in the Indian GP, and if the Indian GP gets huge number of spectators and is able to get a media frenzy, then more corporates may come forward to support Narain Karthikeyan. Amul is one corporate that has decided to sponsor the Sauber team solely for the Indian GP. So hopefully there would be many more corporates realising the value of Formula 1 and sponsoring our Indian drivers. After all, in Formula 1 except for a few top drivers, others bring in sponsorship.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Narain Shines in the wet in Korean Grand Prix 2011

Narain Karthikeyan drove in the first practice FP1 in the Korean Grind Prix. He had replaced Vintanio Liuzzi. It rained heavily on friday in both the sessions with standing water on the track. Narain - who has proved his skills in the wet in the past securing a 2nd position in the wet FP2 in Japan in 2005 Formula 1 Grand Prix - was faster than the other HRT driver Daniel Ricciardo. In Formula 1 due to the difference in the cars, each drivers performance is measured against his team mate. So Narain did well.

However, Narain was not satisfied being faster than his team mate and said "I had never driven in Korea before and having to do so in such foul weather conditions was not ideal. This won't help me much with my preparation for the Indian Grand Prix, because it will surely be dry out there, but, nevertheless, it has been positive to be able to gather some data on wet conditions and I hope that helped the team out a little. Overall, I am satisfied with the job done today."

This shows that Narain is focused on doing a good job in the Indian Grand Prix. Even in adversity, when he has been dropped from the team to get the funds from Redbull, he seems to be having composure and preparing for his dream of driving infront of the home audience. Certainly, this is one quality that one should learn from him.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Effect of Track Time

You need Practice, Practice and Practice!

In a cricket crazy country like India, Sachin Tendulkar is like God. So it was big news when Sachin Tendulkar met Michael Schumacher. It was reported that Sachin was raving about the amazing neck muscles of Schumacher.

In Formula 1, you encounter 3G and even 4G forces while cornering the car at high speeds. So your neck muscles need to be really strong. For the normal public who are unaware about the G forces, after a journey most of them complain about neck pain. The neck pain arises when you drive down from several hours turning the car at higher speeds. For normal mortals, speeds of 100-120 kmph is high for our neck, as most of us hardly exercise.

In formula 1, drivers need to follow specific fitness regimen as well as specific exercises for neck muscles. Still when you face the real G forces while cornering the car, no amount of exercise is enough. So a driver who has been driving in Formula one for sometime and a driver who is making a come back or making his debut, the impact is different. So Narain Karthikeyan recently said that your speed doesn't go way just like that. "It is just the physical aspects of driving an F1 car: you can't just jump into and get quick. You can be on it for a lap, but to be on it for 20 laps is a different matter". Same comment has been made by three time F1 champion Nicki Lauda and Former F1 driver and steward Johny Herbert.

It would be good if Indian corporates understand this and support Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok to get quality time in the cars.

Formula 1 Politics - Money Talks Louder

Driver selection for Formula 1 teams is not just based on talent, but on many other considerations. A case in the point is the Renault team.

Robert Kubica suffered a terrible accident at the beginning of the year and Renault had to find a suitable replacement. In came Nick Heidfield and he set a very fast timing during practice and was selected as a replacement. However, things started turning sour. Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov (who has backing of sponsors from his native Russia) were nearly matched in terms of points which Heidfeld ahead. It is of course a different matter that Heidfeld was unlucky of being involved in a couple of crashes. Eric Boullier of Renualt started making some negative comments about Heidfeld and then after about two races, Renault suddenly removed Heidfeld and Bruno Senna was given the drive. Nick Heidfeld hadn't brought any sponsorship with him. Bruno Senna is the nephew of the legendary Ayrton Senna and the Senna name evokes lot of interest among public and hence sponsors. Renault team which has financial worries wanted sponsorships and instead of coming clean on its intention, started a campaign to malign Heidfeld saying that he lacks leadership qualities so that the replacement by Bruno Senna won't look an act of desperation driven by financial worries.

Of late, Eric Boullier has started making noises about the need to freeze on their driver lineup by October and has kind of given a deadline to Kubica. Robert Kubica's doctor and manager had said that he can come back to some form of racing by November. However, Eric Boullier has given a deadline of October end. Clearly, they don't want Robert Kubica to come back with them as Robert is not likely to bring any sponsorship with him. That would free up one seat for a sponsored driver like Bruno Senna. Ultimately, Money talks louder.

Pastor Maldonado brought lot of sponsorships to the Williams team. So Williams team replaced Nico Hulkenberg. Nico Hulkenberg had in turn brought sponsorships to the Williams team and had even bagged a pole position in 2010. However, Maldonado's sponsors ensured that Hulkenberg was dumped. Williams had felt that they needed an experienced driver like Rubens Barrichello to help in development of their car. Unfortunately, despite Rubens being a jovial guy with lot of experience in F1, he couldn't help in making the Williams car faster. It looks like time is running up for Rubens and there has been news of Kimi Raikkonen expressing interest for a drive with Williams team. Kimi's "private" visit to the Williams factory made Rubens jittery and Rubens even said that he is willing to spend some money from his own pocket to remain in F1. Clearly, Rubens is trying his best to stay in F1 at any cost.

Coming back to Kimi Raikonnen who became F1 champion after moving over to Ferrari, it came as a shock to people that Ferrari chose to drop him one year before his contract and get Alonso for Renault. When the Spanish bank Santander - who has traditionally sponsored the team where Alonso is a driver - moved in as sponsors of Ferrari. Clearly one could see the connection. Even a company with huge history in Formula 1 fell for the lure of the Lucre and dropped a Formula 1 Champion like Kimi. Again Money Talks Louder.

And  if teams like Ferrari, Willams, Renault etc select drivers based on sponsors, can HRT be blamed for replacing Narain Karthikeyan with Daniel Ricciardo due to sponsorships from Redbull?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No Indian Drivers for Sahara Force India

Sahara group has bought 42.5% stake in the Vijay Mallya controlled Force India Formula 1 team. However, as I had thought, Vijay Mallya has again reiterated that he will not take Narain and Karun in the team.

He has continued to harm Narain and Karun by his statements. Dr. Mallya said that the current Indian drivers don't suit him. Now his partner, Subrata Roy of Sahara group, who has been designated the Chairman of Sahara Force India team, has said "We would love to have an Indian driver, but we have to wait for some more time. We should produce world class drivers so that they can even go to other teams".

Unfortunately, Subrata Roy and Vijay Mallya claim to know more than triple world champion Nicki Lauda who has said that Narain and Karun are talented drivers and need more track time.

Similarly Johny Herbert while speaking to Hindustan Time had also said "Just look at Karun and Narain. They don't get any tracktime and then they are expected to get in the car and be fast. It doesn't work like that". So the Sahara Force India owners feel that they know more than Nicki Lauda and Johny Herbert. What a tragedy!
Narain Karthikeyan was the first Indian driver to drive in Formula 1 when he made his debut in 2005. He has proved himself by being the first off the blocks in the inaugural race that year in Melbourne. He also had the seventh fastest laptime in Imola in 2005 driving a lowly Jordan. Unfortunately, the current Sahara Force India owners seem to be behaving like crabs who pull down fellow crabs. Remember the Indian Crab story?

Sahara Force India

The Sahara group headed by Subroto Roy, which was earlier into airlines and which has diverse interests including the controversial para banking schemes has bought into Force India.

Sahara Group is reported to have paid 100 million USD for 42.5% stake in Force India. Following this purchase, the Force India team will be rebranded as Sahara Force India. Change of name of a Formula 1 team requires the concurrence of all the teams.

The ownership structure in the team will now be Sahar Group 42.5%, UB Group owned by Vijay Mallya 42.5% and the Mol family the balance 15%. Vijay Mallya will continue to remain the team principal.

It is to be seen if the change in ownership will result in any change in philosophy with respect to hiring of Indian drivers. Till date, Vijay Mallya had steadfastly refused to even give a test drive to Narain Karthikeyan or Karun Chandhok and has taken every opportunity to belittle them.

In the world of F1, where Money and Ego play a major role, it is to be seen if the infusion of new funds results in Narain getting a deserved look in as a driver.

Narain Needs More Track Time

In my previous post titled "Its Not Just Talent" I had said that only talent can't make you successful. You need a backer.

Nicki Lauda, who is a three time F1 champion has chimed in to say similar things. He said Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandok are talented drivers. However, they need more track time.

It should be noted that Michael Schumacher despite his phenomenal talent used to do lot of testingtill he was satisfied. When you spend more time in the car, you refine your craft. As they say, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. In Formula 1 where the speeds are so high, one needs to keep on changing gears, working on the DRS, adjusting balance etc etc all the while looking at the tiny mirrors in your car to know if any competitor is closing behind. The decision making is so fast that it becomes a part of your reflex action. So, one needs enough track time.

I hope Narain gets into a good car next season so that he can polish his craft and make the more than a billion Indians happy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Its not just Talent

Narain Karthikeyan recently said that Ricciardo is talented and has a bright future, especially with the backing of Red Bull. From his statement it is very clear that Narain doesn't harbour any bitterness towards the man who replaced him in HRT. That shows that Narain is a pragmatic individual who doesn't have much of an ego and takes things in his strides. From his statement one wonders how important is the requirement of backing or support for a F1 driver?

Any one who follows Formula 1 will be able to understand that it is not just talent alone which will bring you success. One needs to hone his talent by hours and hours of practice, exercise, diet etc. Each one of the drivers work hard. So when one driver gets to drive a superior car, he excels. Formula 1 is unlike a running race, where the better man wins. Here, the car matters a lot and also the proficiency of the team in terms of devising the strategy and tactics. 

If you look at the back of the Grid in Forumla 1, you will see that Heikki Kovalainen who was once driving for McLaren and has also won a race, is languising in a slower Team Lotus car. Similarly, Timo Glock who was highly rated at Toyota is driving a lowly Virgin racing car. 

Interestingly, Timo Glock missed driving in the Japanese Grind Prix in 2009. So Kobayashi who was a test driver in Toyota got a chance to race. He impressed people by his aggressive driving style. Immediately, he was swapped up by Peter Sauber for his Sauber racing. Peter Sauber is known for spotting good talents and Kobayashi has now firmly established himself in Formula 1. The Japanese teams are known to support drivers of their nationality. For example, Toyota had pushed for Nakakima to be included in the Williams team first as test driver and then as a driver, as Toyota used to supply engines to Williams. Similarly, Toyota gave a chance to Kobayashi as a test driver and he got the lucky break when Timo Glock was ruled out for the race. If Kobayashi didn't get the backing of Toyota, then he would not have been able to race. A talented person needs an avenue to showcase his talent. It is important to get the backing of a good team to be able to shine. 

Unfortunately for Narain, he never got the backing of important team or group. He first test drove for Jordan and did well. Later he got a call from Minardi, but he couldn't get sufficient sponsors and the seat went to someone else. Later on in 2005 he got to drive for the Jordan team. He has won in all the series that he has participated in, except for F1 where he has only driver back of the grid cars. With undeniable talent, he is struggling at the back of the grid. So it shows that backing or support of an influential person and/or team is very important for an F1 driver.