Should Chandhok and Karthikeyan race in India?

Debates and polls

Karun Chandhok, Lotus, Monza, 2011

Karun Chandhok, Lotus, Monza, 2011

F1 could have two Indian drivers on the grid for next month’s inaugural Indian Grand Prix.

Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan are tipped to make one-off appearances at Lotus and HRT.

But should F1 teams drop their regular drivers to make way for sponsor-friendly local talent?


Just a few weeks ago we were discussing how F1 had failed to create local interest in Turkey, whose Grand Prix disappeared from the calendar after just seven years.

Promoting local drivers in this way can only be good for F1’s profile in an important new market.

It’s also good to see teams giving other drivers a chance to make names for themselves in Formula 1.


The Indian government has refusing to allow the teams to avoid customs duties, as is the practice at other races. This could jeopardise the running of the race.

The government has done so claiming F1 is ‘entertainment’ rather than ‘sport’. This is a transparent attempt to make more money from the race. As written here earlier, claiming F1 is not sport is ignorant nonsense.

But that fact is undermined when drivers who are supposed to be racing on merit are shown to be interchangeable with those bringing more funds or attention.

I say

In one sense, I’m rather ambivalent about this debate – it’s up to the teams to decide who they put in their cars.

But I do think it asks some interesting questions about how far F1 should go the court popularity in new venues, and whether the sport is diminished by having its regular competitors replaced by others who are more appealing to local audiences.

The shortage of opportunities for new drivers to gain testing mileage makes it hard to fault teams trying to promote emerging talent. But that description does not fit a driver who made his F1 debut six years ago.

You say

Should Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan race in India?

  • Chandhok and Karthikeyan should get to race (34%)
  • Just Chandhok should get to race (28%)
  • Just Karthikeyan should get to race (2%)
  • Neither driver should get to race (24%)
  • No opinion on which driver should get to race (12%)

Total Voters: 289

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143 comments on Should Chandhok and Karthikeyan race in India?

  1. jake butler aka dopey115 said on 14th September 2011, 13:02

    as far as im concerned, hispania and lotus can field who they like when they like-since the fia say each team must field 2 cars every race and use no more than 4 race drivers per season. Both could argue its a sponsorship commitment and dont see it as an issue, infact i support it. Both drivers could do with it and also gets india even more exited on formula 1. However, if it was to become a regular thing, where relative unknowns/drivers who dont usually race, are being put in their cars for their home grand prix, then the fia should maybe look into restricting unnessicary driver substitutions. Its a one-off, so let chandhok, kartikeyan enjoy the biggest event in their lives.

  2. Renault removed their more experienced regular driver for a less experienced one who also came with sponsorship.
    For these lower teams, it is no loss as it will have no effect on their championship standing.
    Trulli has had problems with the car all year long.
    HRT will always start at the back irrespective of who drives.
    It’s not even worth debating.

  3. F1 fans and F1 related blog sites (who claim to be F1 experts) can be so very hypocritical.

    Its not as if there are queue of talented drivers who can attract sponsors and fight for titles are fighting for race seats at HRT and Lotus.

    Its not as if there is long queue of drivers knocking at doors of HRT, that Narain’s drive at HRT is becoming a sore point in eyes of F1 fans.

    On contrary, a decent driver like Narain who had a good career in feeder formulae to F1, who is race winner in other racing series and who has good sponsor backing should be wasting his time (and monies of his sponsors) in low rung F1 team, when he can get paid for his driving services in other series (which he has demonstrated already).

    Between Narain and Karun, while Karun is just sweet talking media savvy PR bloke in F1 due to his connections, Narain has more valid claim to be in F1. Its just unfortunate that only opportunities that came his way were in bad team with bad cars, things that really didn’t do justice to his talent.

    If he is given better car and more mileage under his belt (which he didn’t have with HRT, given that the team was not even able to field a decent car in the season opener race), I really admire him and his sponsors for wasting their time and money on shabby F1 venture.

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 14th September 2011, 18:00

      I certainly don’t think one can blame either for taking the opportunity, even if I don’t think it will help further their career in F1. It might even work to get other interesting opportunities for all I know. This is more on whether it is a good thing for the teams and the sport.

  4. Don Mateo (@don-mateo) said on 14th September 2011, 13:09

    I’m thinking that having local drivers in the race may help boost its profile locally, but to really make F1 popular in a country you need a superstar. Look at Spain: there were Spanish F1 drivers before Fernando Alonso, but the sport only became popular there when he started doing well, and still there are large numbers of fans there who are only interested in what he does.

    On the other side, look at France, which has had many great drivers and world champions in the past, but the profile of F1 there has waned now that there are no French drivers and barely any involvement to speak of.

    Chandhok and Karthikeyan will no doubt encourage locals to take an interest, but F1’s long-term popularity in India (or in any given country for that matter) probably rests with someone who can run closer to the front.

  5. andrewdobbuk (@andrewdobbuk) said on 14th September 2011, 13:09

    I’ve always got the impression that Karun is a huge brand in India for things like Road Safety*, but not been given the time in the car to show his raw pace. Remember Monaco last year, when before Trulli parked on him he was running the highest HRT had been all year.

    Karthikeyan on the other hand hasn’t really been seeing promoting the F1 brand*, so a swap for driver who is just in for his nationality and not brand exposure seems unfair.

    However, both may bring in extra local money and have huge PR gains for the teams, possibly bringing in more money in the future. I do think Karun has a solid future in F1 whereas Karthikeyan’s time is running out.

    It may be obvious but I’m a Karun and Team Lotus fan.

    *I do not live in India, nor have I visited, this is from my “online” view of whats been going on.

  6. dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 14th September 2011, 13:10

    While F1 is definitely a sport, it’s also a business (as us fans are frequently reminded when our interests are ignored). I don’t think a decision to run Karun or Narain would really undermine the view of F1 as a sport – the Indian government view is, as Keith pointed out, clearly spurious.

    If teams want to use different drivers to boost their sponsorship opportunities at the potential expense of their ability to score points, that’s a wager that only they can decide whether to take. If Lotus and HRT want to showcase Indian talent, they should be allowed to, and the sporting and financial consequences should be theirs alone.

    After all, Sunday’s 1st lap crash showed that even experienced regular drivers can cause major carnage!

  7. They’re both useless. I prefer Rubens Barrichello to continue for one more year at least. What the hell is going on with all these super-rich pilots from nowhere?

  8. Don Mateo (@don-mateo) said on 14th September 2011, 13:34

    I voted for them both to get a chance – personally I feel that Chandhok deserves a chance in place of Trulli (though I won’t be happy if they make Kovalainen give up his seat), and Karthikeyan may as well as there’s clearly money in it for HRT (not that I generally approve of pay drivers, but I don’t want to see HRT go under).

    As other posters have said as well, the fact that this is going on at back-marker teams makes me less bothered, as they’ve always been more prone to this kind of thing anyway.

    I do agree though that generally it’s not a good precedent to set and I wouldn’t want to see it become common practice to substitute a driver because of their nationality.

    Taking a pure flight of fancy, as I know it’ll never happen, but this is one of those situations where you could justify teams running a third car. Only let them do it once or twice a season, and don’t let everyone do it at the same race, but then teams could use that to try out a young driver, use a driver for PR (i.e. at their home race or even a “celebrity” driver, like Valentino Rossi or Sebastien Loeb), or get a bit of extra help towards the championship, without having to compromise their regular line-up.

    Of course I know there are loads of reasons why that couldn’t shouldn’t happen, but it’s just a thought!

  9. icemangrins (@icemangrins) said on 14th September 2011, 13:42

    @Kieth – I pressed the wrong option by mistake… can it be reveresed ( Just Karthikeyan should get to race ). wanted to choose the option below pout pout :-(

    Forget about these drivers. Yes, I read the report yesterday about the Income Tax demand. It is atrocious. Demanding more than $400 million from the organizers puts the country to shame besides showcasing to the entire world a) how corrupted my country is b) enthusiasm the government shows towards the F1 sportatainment.. honestly they don’t care. I guess for them, Sebastian Vettel is no greater than a rookie cricketer from Punjab. Why would even Bernie take the word of Dr Vijay Mallya and prepare to go there? Vijay cares about his business and the reason he came to F1 is to grow his Airline and Alcohol business. ** agreed he wants to harness talent in Force India **

    There are millions of genuine F1 fans in India & it is unfortunate they are going to suffer for sure if the event doesn’t happen. Millions of $$$ were invested by the organizers to construct the circuit and to market. lots of ticket were sold.

    I remember when Yanni went to Perform in Taj Mahal, the corrupturs waited till the last moment to stage a protest and demand money and I heard Yanni paid them from his own pocket.

    Chandhok has some possibilities to improve
    Karthekayen is a waste of time.

    Agreed and accepted based on the current performance. They never had a decent outing in a decent car. IF you take Narain’s performance in 2005… he was constantly slower then Tiago… however he showed improvements towards the end of the season and his Chinese GP qualfying is a good example of how he can make use of the track condition. He did crash out of the race. Talent is there… but, they were never given the oppurtunity.

    • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 14th September 2011, 18:05

      If I read the article correctly, most of the money will be paid pack after F1 leaves the country. Minus a 2% (admin.fee?), and of course the interest on the loan for it.

      So it isn’t $400 million, but it is a bother and shabby, and not a very nice way to welcome a big sport (oh, event) into your country to return for the next 8 years.

  10. sallicedj (@sallicedj) said on 14th September 2011, 13:46


    I do not believe that Karthikeyan is as fast as Luizzi (This is from what I saw from the start of the season)and Ricciardo looks to be out performing Luizzi very soon.

    I also think that Kovalinen has driven well all year and does not deserve to be dropped. If the race was earlier in the year I would have given Chandhok ago as Trulli never seemed comfortable. However now he has sorted out his “Steering Wheel” he has looked a lot better so it would be the wrong time to take him out of the car.

    If the 2 Indian drivers have not made it in to the cars then I think a lot of Public Appearences around the track all weekend would be a good idea.

    It will be interesting if either them get a practice session as the track is unknown.

  11. After mulling this over all morning, I still can’t decide what I think. There are really good points being made on both sides. I’m glad neither team is going to rely on me to make this decision! ;-)

  12. I voted just Chandhok. What’s the point of having a driver who is most likely not going to give the Indians to cheer about? I have a feeling most of the Indian population would we cheering on a promising driver like Chandhok rather than ‘tried that and failed’ driver in Karthikeyan.

    • hoshi (@hoshi) said on 15th September 2011, 9:11

      Being from India, I can bet Karthikeyan is admired much more than Chandhok..

      NK is a better driver although not the best in the world but good enough..

      KC really left a lot to be desired in the one off race he got..

      but i would love to see them both race..

  13. Spaulding (@spaulding) said on 14th September 2011, 14:15

    In American Football, Basketball, and Baseball, teams will bring on a player for post season only or to fill a slot on a roster where another player was underperforming or injured. The thing is, those teams get ticket money at every home game they play and, if you don’t count player salaries, don’t have the costs of an F1 team. Once upon a time, all of these sports would gladly accept “pay players” to meet the bottom line. This is really no different as it is just backmarkers playing musical drivers to meet their bottom line. Frankly, that extra money may make the team more competitive as, if used properly, will speed up development within the smaller team.

  14. How I hate the “it’s not an sport” argument!!!!!

    I think it’s up to the team to decide who races and who doesn’t. And it’s also very nice that a local driver participates in the race. Many great drivers started their careers racing in their country first, renting a car or just getting a ride (until the 80s). Or sometimes locals get to drive during practice (remember Kobayashi at Japan 09?).

    So all in all, I’m not too concerned about it.

  15. Maybe this is the best case for a third-team-car. In IndyCar, teams occaisionally run an extra car if there is sponsorhip money of if it’s a big race. So if you are going to India or some other marginal market, and you want to add a national driver to draw the crowd, put him in a third car.

    In the end, it should be purely the individual team’s decision.

    As far as the “against” point, I’m not sure what the Indian goverment’s application of its customs rules have to do with the polled question. It’s not like F1 can hold it over the Indian goverment’s head that they won’t run an Indian driver if they don’t relent on the duties.

    However, the interchangeability point is an important insight. The main asterisk over F1’s sports status is the effect of direct, ad hoc payments to teams to seat a driver. But, on the separate issue of the duties, this is an argument in favor of the Indian Customs officials, isn’t it?

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