As an Indian, one felt happy to hear of Force India’s podium finish at the Belgian Grand Prix. But then a grid of questions formed in the head. The one at pole position was: how Indian is Force India?
Not much. It is Indian in name and ownership. The car and the drivers’ costumes feature colours of the Indian national flag. But that’s all.
Take the car, the third most important thing in Formula One after the podium girls and the champagne bottles. The car might be called VJM02, after Vijay Mallya, who is the chairman and Team Principal. But the vital components of the 540kg beast are foreign-made. The engine, which is the heart of the car, is made by Mercedes. Force India does not have the right to tamper with the engine. After every race, the car is dismantled. Each part is checked and cleaned and the car is assembled again. This takes place in the team factory. It is not anywhere in India but in Silverstone, the United Kingdom.
Next in hierarchy are the drivers. Again, no Indians here. Giancarlo Fisichella, who won pole position for Force India in Belgium and followed it up with a second-placed finish, is Italian. (That might result in more votes for the Congress in the next election). Adrian Sutil, the second driver, is German. Number three Vitantonio Liuzzi is Italian, too.
Mallya is the boss and that is important, but he shares the ownership of the team with Michiel Mol, a Dutch businessman. The Force India website has a page on the 29 key members of its staff. Mallya is the only Indian in it. Even the press officer is a foreigner.
To an extent, this is understandable. Firstly, Formula One is an expensive and complicated sport that relies on the most advanced technologies. Two, India got into it only recently. As a result, it is impossible to run a team on Indian soil, with Indian staff and with Indian drivers.
When the team was formed last year, Mallya was criticised for not picking Narain Karthikeyan, India’s lone Formula One driver till date. But this cannot be the case forever. As the team gains prominence, it would be its responsibility to give more Indians opportunities. Some days ago, Mallya controversially said that Indian drivers, including the promising Karun Chandhok, were not yet ready for F-1. He may have been right. But considering his position, he could help make them ready for the big league. India is also renowned for its engineering and technological whizkids, many of whom would be assets to an F-1 team. That is when the Force would truly be with India.