CHENNAI // Force India's first podium finish at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday has raised expectations in the country of having an Indian driver on board the two-year-old team. Giancarlo Fisichella, the Italian driver, finished second behind Kimi Raikkonen to log the Indian team's first points in Formula One, triggering wild celebrations in a country of 1.1 billion people.
Cricket-crazy India is trying to shed its tag of being a one-sport nation and interest in F1 has escalated since Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian driver in the series in 2005. Team owner Vijay Mallya bought into the Spyker team two years ago and renamed it Force India but there is no Indian driver currently in Formula One. "Being a motorsport enthusiast and involved in the sport in the country, I feel tremendous pride in seeing an Indian-owned team up there at the pinnacle of motorsport," said Sanjay Sharma, head of motorsports division of tyre manufacturer JK Tyre.
"You are talking of a team that is just 30 races old, about a team that has changed its technical team twice in two years, about a team that is on the low end in a high budget sport. "But look at the man (Mallya) and his conviction in his dream and his drivers. This was no fluke. "This is just the start. We are bound to see more Indian involvement in F1." India hopes to host a grand prix in 2011 despite exchange control obstacles and Force India's success is expected to generate further interest in the build up to the event.
"With F1 the second largest watched sport in the world after World Cup football, just to have the name Force India up there is a matter of huge pride for 1.1 billion Indians," said Vicky Chandhok, the former president of the Indian motorsport body. Chandhok's son, Karun, is seen as India's next F1 hope and is currently competing in the GP2 series. "Surely, the next thing would be to have an Indian driver on the Indian team," said Jiju Jacob, a Chennai-based motor racing fan. "We need to see if they are good enough first."