We might worship cricket in the subcontinent, but 16 crores for Yuvraj Singh, and 10 crores for Dinesh Kartik, both not even members of the current team? Daniel Ricciardo was paid about the same amount by Red Bull last year and he placed 3rd in the Formula 1 Championship. That inviolves about 20 races, a 9 month long season, and a little bit of risk to life and limb. At the junior level ,this kind of funding could take a couple of young Indian drivers to the doorstep of Formula1, Indy cars, or the World Endurance Championship within a period of 3-4 years. But to be paid this kind of money for a few weeks of entry level cricket makes it clear that celebrity status and marketing take precedence over current form and standing.
Indian talent in motorsport has often matched the best that Europe has to offer on the race track, but cannot sustain or realise the full potential because Indian marketing professionals don’t understand the math. Our corporate sponsors are not willing to look beyond Cricket and accept fresh challenges. But it is certainly not because ‘We really don’t have the talent’ as many on the page 3 or social soirees in Mumbai and Delhi often say. When India hosted the GP , the same circuit would want to be seen in the Paddock One Club or at the Amber Lounge parties because it was the in thing again (Not to forget they’ve also wanted free access to it, thinking it’s just another Delhi or Bombay IPL party).
Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok made it to Formula 1 without any karting experience or the access to international level single seaters in India . The new generation of Indian drivers is probably much better prepared to move to International racing as more of them have started to participate in international karting and car series in Europe and Asia from a very early age.
Beside the Indian circuit also has a decent karting programme and entry level cars like the Formula BMW and MRF 1600 . The Corporate coffers are healthy, foreign exchange is no longer a problem, and it would not be too much to expect adequate sponsorship to be avaialble for the next generation of racers. But , the obsession with Cricket has made it difficult for all to get funds commensurate with the level of expertise and degree of difficulty.
Sports Marketing agencies refuse to entertain any clients other than Cricket and Bollywood, as the effort required to generate decent funding for a non cricketer is too taxing for them. Indian Corporates also dont want to look at developing a driver . The common remark , “ if he was in Formula 1 we would sponsor him “, reveals an attitude that is a combination of ignorance and lack of will to do something different. To add to the problems, the Government still refuses to recognize Motor Racing as a sport.
Compare this to Malaysia, a country which is also a former British colony, and a copy paste constitution that also has a “ Ministry for Sports and Youth affairs “. The Malaysian counterpart nominates Junior drivers as Brand Ambassadors, encourages public sector enterprises like Petronas to sponsor multiple drivers, and generally does all it can to see that Malaysian drivers are able to drive without funding worries.
For an aspiring Indian driver, it must be heartbreaking to see cricketers of yesteryear commanding fees that could create a sure shot path to the highest levels of motorsport . On the international level, Cricket is still a sport played by about a dozen nations, half of whom are there only to make up the numbers. Compare it to the global reach of Motorsports and one wonders when the Sports marketing companies and the Indian Corporates will ever see the potential of Motorsports sponsorship . Till then, the top talent in the country will never achieve it’s full potential . ……….