Even as Formula One has lost some of its Asian financial backers of the past — notably the Honda and Toyota car companies, which had owned teams but left the series citing the global financial crisis — its canvas and reach in Asia has spiraled manifold. And no single continent has as many fixtures (eight out of 20) to brag about, which has partly to do with its vastness.
Nonetheless, the Asian presence remains a large but disparate one. The Caterham team is owned by the Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes and is based partly in Malaysia, with Malaysian money pouring in.
A Japanese driver, Kamui Kobayashi, races at the Sauber team and is proving to be one of the best Japanese drivers to have raced in Formula One.
The team’s principal is the India-born Monisha Kaltenborn Narang, the HRT team has an Indian driver in Narain Karthikeyan, besides the Chinese test driver Ma Qing Hua. And there is also an Indian-owned team, Sahara Force India.
While races in the Middle East were the natural offshoot of an oil-muscled economy, Japan and India have a car-manufacturing and auto-racing culture respectively. So important has Japan been for Formula One in terms of sponsorship and car technology that the Japanese contributions to the series and the Japanese Grand Prix have long been seen as among the chief factors driving the sport. Though Formula One arrived late in India, its tryst with motor sports goes a long way. Moreover, the success of the inaugural Grand Prix has reinforced India’s swelling clout in motor sport.
“Asia is, irrespective of the driver, a very important market for each team because looking at the races — especially now in India that is still so new to Formula One — there are so many brands that want to establish themselves there.
Hopefully there will be Indian brands that want to use this brand to establish themselves globally. So it’s a give and take situation in both directions. Asia is definitely, next to the Americas, an upcoming market,” observed Monisha Kaltenborn. Financial restrains in Europe too have played a vital role in the ensuring the sport’s spread to Asia. Apart from bursts of recessions, Europe struggled to find sponsorship after tobacco advertisements were banned from the sport. Asia, especially the Middle East, was better equipped to deal with recession and its accompanying economic frigidity.
But for the region to truly take off and become a true powerhouse in the series, Asia needs a winning driver on the cockpit. Seconded Pedro de la Rosa, Sahara Force India’s driver: “What it takes is you need a hero just to light the fire. Spain is a good example. Fernando Alonso came and he transformed the sport in our country and now we have this Spanish team in Formula One. National interest is crucial for having companies, teams and drivers developing.” Given Asia’s recent strides in motor sports, this may not be that remote a prospect. And that inevitably has to be from Japan or India.