There’s a minor motor racing spat going on at the moment between the Indian owners of the Force India F1 team and the nation-based A1 racing series.
Force India have been criticised for not hiring an Indian driver and A1 has been called mediocre. Both sides have credible arguments but both miss the point.
Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan (website and wikipedia) drove for Jordan in F1 in 2005, and now drives for India in A1. I saw him on his F1 debut at the 2005 Australian F1 GP and he has won the 2007 Chinese A1 race. He’s talented and deserves a place in F1.
In the treacherous wet and dry conditions at the 2005 Australian F1 GP Karthikeyan demonstrated awesome car control, especially around the final corner onto the main straight. Only the eventual race winner, Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella, came as close to the limits of grip and performance over that weekend.
In F1 the best drivers do not always end up in the best cars. Ayrton Senna once famously described F1 as “business with some sport in it”. Unfortunately the commercial realities mean that drivers without personal sponsorship often cannot get hired by the lower F1 teams.
Just like great actors sign on to make crap films because they need to work, the same is the case with racing drivers. I’d love to see Karthikeyan back in F1, perhaps partnering Fisichella at Force India. The reality is that he is driving in A1 because he is a professional driver and has taken the best paying drive available.
F1 is a global phenomenon with a 50 year history and is the pinnacle of motor sport technologically, financially and in terms of media exposure. A1 has to distinguish itself from F1 and does so by basing its competition on national teams.
Force India should not hire Karthikeyan because he is Indian, but only if he is the best driver with the best financial package available. This explains why Adrian Sutil is Fisichella’s teammate in 2008. There is no room for nationalism in F1.