There is a new race in motorsports—the race to form the true Team India.
On one front, financiers of the new Indian A1 Grand Prix (A1GP, a racing format in which competitors represent countries as opposed to constructors) team are recruiting expatriate engineers to make it “fully Indian”, saying it is the only team that’s “representative of the country” and which enjoys a funding advantage over those competing in the more fancied Formula One (F1) circuit.
Spice Energy Pvt. Ltd, which bought the franchise of the Indian A1 team from the A1GP management in London about three months ago, is pinning its business plans on fanning nationalistic passion to monetize a race where countries are pitted against countries.
“People love to support their nation, and it is this notion that is at the heart of A1GP’s development,” A1GP chief executive Pete da Silva said in an email interview from London. “The opportunity for fans to support their home team has a strong appeal, particularly in countries that do not have a long history in motorsport.”
On another front, the same strategy is being employed by liquor baron Vijay Mallya around Spyker, the F1 team he acquired from Spyker Cars NV of Holland in September, reportedly for €80 million (Rs456 crore).
Forging ahead: Spice Energy chief executive Ravi Chilukuri says that in India, Formula One racing does not have the funding advantage that the A1 Grand Prix Team India has in its present format.
He got F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to approve the team’s new name—Force India F1—and has now applied for a new logo featuring the colours of the Indian flag.
Usually, F1 teams are named after the car manufacturer, such as the Toyota F1 team, of which Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines is one of the sponsors.
Andaleeb Sehgal, adviser to the Spice Energy board, and one of several individual investors in the A1 team, declined to comment on whether Mallya’s move would rob the A1 team of its sheen. “However, there is a Team India racing in A1GP,” he said.
Spice Energy chief executive Ravi Chilukuri described the A1GP team as the only one that’s representative of the country.
“F1 does not have the funding advantage that the A1GP Team India has in its present format,” he said. “F1 is like a football club.”
To make its team “fully Indian”, Spice Energy has now recruited a US-based expatriate Vinny Patel as chief engineer, and is negotiating with a Malaysian of Indian origin to join up as a mechanic.
Da Silva says because A1 controls television production, it also can retain control on sponsorships and plugs throughout racing events.
The team, which will have the country’s ace racer Narain Karthikeyan, will also sport a new livery of a light blue shade, the colour of India’s cricket and hockey teams.
The challenge before Spice Energy, Sehgal admits, is popularizing the A1 format. So, during the third race of the 10-race competition at Sepang, Malaysia, later this month, it will launch a “major awareness programme” to create fans back home and hit sponsors.
Da Silva points to the growth of A1 racing in China and Malaysia, saying driver Ananda Mikola has become a hero in the latter.
“A1 Team India may not have been at the front of the pack when the series started, but we are confident that this will soon change,” da Silva said. “The success of the series in India as a whole is important to A1GP’s global growth.”