Occupation: Racing driver
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration
Career: Made his Formula 1 debut in 2005 with the Jordan team, making him the first Indian to ever race in Formula 1. Was a Williams F1 test driver from 2006-07. Moved to Wyler Racing in the 2010 Nascar World Truck Series. In 2011, has driven for the Hispania Racing team in Formula 1.
Interests: Racing, spending time with family, fitness sports
Q. When you first decided to go for Formula 1 racing, one of the main problems was raising money. Is the situation any easier today for Indian drivers aspiring to get into F1?
Thankfully, the Tata Group and BPCL supported my entry to F1. The situation is better today in terms of visibility and awareness about motorsport, which wasn’t the case when I competed abroad and joined F1. Nowadays, most corporates are aware of Formula 1 and this makes it slightly easier for aspiring drivers to approach potential sponsors.
Q. So, is it still tough to start?
The fact is, no one is going to give you funding unless you keep performing in every race. A young driver may initially be able to secure funding for entry-level races abroad, but then if you don’t perform quickly you won’t have much to show when you go back to that (or another) sponsor.
Q. How much will the October race help?
Racing begins at a grassroots level and is far from the glamorous F1 circus. We have some driver training academies, but I wouldn’t say it is enough. With the Buddh International Circuit now in Delhi, things will be much more accessible. Until now, our only two race tracks were down south. To produce drivers of international quality, we need purpose built racing tracks, modern racing machinery and professional guidance. Once these things are in place, transition to international racing will be much easier, unlike my days when I had to go from a Formula Maruti to a British F3, a massive step-up.
Q. After funding comes in, how long before a driver can earn on his own?
It all depends on how you perform. Being fast is just a part of the equation — you need to be in the right place at the right time to earn ‘the big bucks’. In Formula 1, even very talented drivers find themselves without a seat, or in a testing role because there are not enough teams with paid drivers. Formula 1 is a business model, so most midfield and below teams have a part of their earnings coming from the driver’s sponsors. If you’re looking to make money in Formula 1, you have to be highly opportunistic, patient. Being exceptionally talented is a given.
Q. The high cost can put people off. How can we make the sport more accessible?
In Formula 1, you need specialised equipment and a purpose built race track to compete even at the grassroots level. The only other way for kids to connect with F1 is to encourage them in karting. Even Tier II cities have karting tracks and once they are on the track, fighting it out in those karts, they will instantly relate to F1.