FEBRUARY 2, 2005
Karthikeyan and the Indian market
Narain Karthikeyan's signature on a Formula 1 contract will do Formula 1 no harm at all in India, the country with the world's second largest population. There is a vast population, estimated to be around 1,065m, and there have been some impressive gains in economic investment and output in recent years.
Around 25% of the population live below the poverty line but it is reckoned that an income of $1800 a year will now allow Indians to buy basic luxuries such as televisions and refrigerators. The average income per capita is up to around $2800 and is rising fast and it is estimated that purchasing power will triple by 2020 and multiply by eight by 2040. This therefore represents a massive market - of perhaps 100m - who are able to afford some of the products that are sold by the kind of companies doing business in F1.
It is obvious therefore that Fomula 1 wants to raise its profile in India and having a driver in F1 is always the most effective way of increasing national interest in the sport. Even unsuccessful F1 drivers push up the number of people interested in the sport. There are many examples, notably Zsolt Baumgartner of Hungary.
Karthikeyan has shown that he has ability but we have yet to see if he has the ability to win at F1 level. But he has a good pedigree which began with a course at the Elf Winfield Racing School in France. In 1993 he competed in Formula Maruti in India but then moved to Britain to race in Formula Vauxhall Junior and then Formula Ford Zetec. He became the first Indian to win the British Formula Ford Winter series. He went on the win the Formula Asia series before embarking on British Formula Opel. He moved to Formula 3 in 1998 and had some promising results and in 1999 won his first F3 races at Brands Hatch. The following year he was fourth in the championship behind Antonio Pizzonia, Tomas Scheckter and Takuma Sato but ahead of F1 driver Gianmaria Bruni and Nicolas Kiesa. That year he also won at Spa and at the Korean SuperPrix.
In 2001 he tested for Jaguar F1 and later for Jordan but his only actual racing was in Formula Nippon in Japan. He has since raced in Formula Nissan in Europe and laast summer won his first race with RC Motorsport.
Narain's former 1 ambitions are being fuelled by the giant Tata Group, Tata Motors and by the Bharat Petroleum Corporation.
"The Tata Group has been supporting Narain's racing career for the past three years and we are pleased that our association is now going to result in an F1 drive," says Romit Chaterji, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Tata Services Ltd. "The Tata Group is itself committed to be amongst the first Indian corporate houses to compete in the tough global arena, and we are therefore delighted to support another Indian who has made it to the ‘fast lane'. Narain Karthikeyan with some excellent performances in the last few years in the Nissan World series has shown that he has the potential and the grit to achieve success in the F1 races."
Bharat Petroleum will use Karthikeyan to promote its high-performance "Speed" petrol brand.
The deal has come about thanks to Karthikeyan's associations with Midland F1 team boss Trevor Carlin.
"Trevor knows me well," says Karthikeyan. "He knows what I'm capable of."
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