India and F1 — A saga that seems to try its best to disappoint every time you talk about it. Let’s go back and look at our history with this magnificent sport: In 2005, Narain Karthikeyan arrived on the scene with a team of relative legend, Jordan F1. However, he caught them on their worst day and had a pretty forgettable year, once even finishing 4th in a race of 6 cars. In 2011, he came back with HRT, the worst team in the history of teams, maybe ever. He reached new lows, once being compared to a cucumber by Sebastian Vettel (A cucumber is a vegetable, which Narain Karthikeyan is not).
In 2010, we had Karun Chandhok, whose dad was the president of the Federation of Motorsport Clubs in India, so you don’t need to wonder how he got to driving cars. Again, a forgettable driver who was decidedly average and yet proved to be a fantastic commentator, his true calling and also crashed frequently (Germany and Monaco were memorable, although memorable is not a word one would generally associate with Chandhok the driver). Even when we talk about the track, the Buddh International Circuit was, frankly, a boring track with very gradual grading which, although providing character on paper did not produce the action many were hoping for. I attended the 2013 edition myself, and the racing was bland, to say the least. Changes however could be made and it could achieve the level of success that Force India has got, our only respectable contribution to the sport though both its owners in the news for all the wrong reasons.
We are here to talk about our latest contribution to the world of F1, the little story that would brighten up the day of every Indian in the world — an Indian has yet again broken into this sport of elitists and dilettantes. Arjun Maini has been signed up as a development driver in the American Haas F1 team. So, not yet there, but still, he is young with much to learn, a thing he will have to with extreme and immediate fervour, considering his mentor is the legendary Karun Chandhok. Should we really be happy about this right now? Should all Indians be happy about this so soon? What will this mean for motorsport in India? These questions have found me wanting more often than I would like them to.
Enough talent to go the long route?
Motorsport is a forgettable afterthought for those Indians who know what it is and a crime for those who don’t. In this environment, Arjun Maini getting himself up there is in itself a commendable achievement. His track record is also not a thing to be ashamed of, having won the Formula BMW series, finished 2nd in the BRDC F4 championship and finishing 4th in his rookie season of the Toyota Racing Series, three of the most competitive junior racing series’ in the world at the moment. In his first GP3 race at the Spanish Grand Prix, he ended up winning! Certainly then, the boy has talent.
It is worth noting here though, that this Arjun Maini belongs to a rich family, and Karun Chandhok himself admitted to his father having a big role in the decision of the Haas F1 team to call up Arjun on his new role. It is guaranteed now that names will be called and he will be reffered to as a pay driver, the integrity of his talent up in doubt, his past record standing for nothing in the harsh world of F1 fans, and especially Indian F1 fans, a distinctly more critical species that likes nothing more than an evening full of critique on, quote, “c*** Hamilton” and “Alonso cry baby godfather”.
Arjun Maini will have to go through a baptism of fire before even turning a wheel this year and yet there’s a mood that India is finally changing, and we have found our dark horse. Having followed him from the time he was karting not so long ago and achieving tremendous success, I always wanted Arjun and his brother Kush to get to F1. Now that one of them is here, it is time for the whole Indian motorsport community to give him the support that he deserves.