Formula One

India F1 Drivers: India’s Ties to the Top Tier of Motorsport

India has never been a hotbed of motorsports but has produced names that are synonymous with motorsport. However, when it comes to Formula One, the country has produced enough drivers to count on a single hand. The craze for the sport is there but unfortunately no Indian has been able to stand on the top step of the podium just yet.

Narain in the Indian GP
Photo : Hoch Zwei / Icon Sport

The First Ever Indian F1 Drivers

As we said, not many Indian drivers made it to Formula One so far. In fact, only two of them have reached this stage in their motorsport careers:

Narain Karthikeyan

The first ever Indian driver to compete in Formula One was Narain Karthikeyan. Born on January 14, 1977, in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Karthikeyan began his racing career in 1993 and worked his way up the ranks to become a test driver for the Jordan team in 2001. He made his F1 debut with Jordan at the 2005 Australian Grand Prix, finishing in 15th place. Karthikeyan’s best finish in F1 came at the extremely chaotic 2005 US Grand Prix, where he finished fourth out of six cars, scoring his first and only points in the top tier of motorsport.

Karthikeyan was reduced to the role of a test driver for the Williams F1 team in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Narain was on the lookout for any opportunities that came his way but couldn’t make his way back onto the grid. After a short stint with HRT in 2011 and 2012, he failed to retain a seat in F1 and had to look at other avenues. His most recent outing was in the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series for Racing Team India.

Karun Chandhok

Another Indian driver who competed in Formula One was Karun Chandhok. Born on January 19, 1984, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Karun began his racing career in 2000 and was able to work his way up the ranks to become a test driver for the Red Bull and Force India teams. He made his F1 debut with the Hispania Racing team in 2010, finishing in 14th place at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Chandhok’s best finish in F1 came at the 2010 Australian Grand Prix, where he finished in 14th place.

Karun Chandhok
Photo by Icon sport

Chandhok left Formula 1 after the 2011 season to compete in other racing series. He raced briefly for the Mahindra Formula E team for the inaugural season. The Indian has been part of the Sky Sports F1 reporting team since 2019 as a commentator and analyst and is a familiar voice come race day.

The Indian Billionaire on the Grid

The most successful Indian owner in Formula One so far has been Vijay Mallya, who owned the now-Aston Martin F1 Team back when it was known as Force India. Born on December 18, 1955, in Kolkata, West Bengal, Mallya is a businessman and a former member of the Rajya Sabha. He took over the Spyker team in 2007 and renamed it Force India, which had become a regular points-scoring team and were able to consistently punched above their weight before his bankruptcy, when the team had to go into administration. Mallya played a key role in promoting motorsports in India and has also helped nurture young Indian drivers through the Force India Driver Academy.

Despite these ties to the top tier of motorsport, India has yet to produce a driver who has consistently competed at the front of the grid. The two Indian F1 drivers combined make up a frankly awful point total of 5.

The Stalwarts of India’s F1 Dream

However, there are several young Indian drivers who are currently making waves in the lower categories of racing and could potentially make it to Formula One in the future.

Jehan Daruvala

One such driver is Jehan Daruvala, who is currently competing in the FIA Formula 2 Championship for MP Motorsport and is the current reserve driver for Mahindra Racing in Formula E. Born on October 1, 1998, in Mumbai, Daruvala began his racing career in karting and worked his way up to becoming a part of the Sahara Force India Academy. He won the FIA Formula 3 Championship in 2019 and made his debut in Formula 2 in 2020.

Daruvala has shown promising results so far, finishing on the podium multiple times, even winning races in Formula 2, and having a test session with McLaren, but it looks like time has run out for him. He was dropped by the Red Bull Driver Academy at the beginning of 2023, and Jehan has gone on to say that his future mainly lies in Formula E.

Kush Maini

Another young Indian driver who has made a name for himself in the lower categories of racing is Kush Maini. Born on August 21, 2001, in Bangalore, Maini began his racing career in karting and worked his way up to compete in the F3 Asian Championship and the BRDC British F3 Championship. He finished third in the F3 Asian Championship in 2020 and is currently competing in the FIA F2 championship with Campos Racing, where he finished third in the Sprint Race in Melbourne.

What does the future hold for F1 in India?

The future of Formula One in India looks bright, despite the country’s limited success in producing top-class F1 drivers so far. The huge Indian market will always be seen as a revenue stream that is not fully tapped. There have been efforts to promote Formula One in India, despite it not being on the F1 calendar since 2013.

The country boasts two exciting drivers competing in the F2 Championship for the 2023 season, and very recently even hosted a Formula E Grand Prix in the city of Hyderabad.

The long and expensive road to F1 keeps a lot of Indians away from the sport, but this trend has recently been changing, mainly because of changing consumer lifestyles and incomes. The motorsport fans of the country desire to hear the Indian national anthem sung on the F1 podium, but for now it all seems like a far-fetched dream.

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