They proved instrumental in shaping the careers of stalwarts such Red Bull’s three-time reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg. Now the Formula BMW cars, introduced by JK Tyre into the domestic circuit, may just be the turbo boost Indian motorsports desperately need in their search for the next F1 star.
One only needs to listen to young driver Vishnu Prasad, who can hardly contain his excitement while talking about them.
“These are real racing cars! For the first time, many drivers like me are getting to drive cars that our counterparts are driving in Europe. Earlier, it was two or three drivers in the entire country who had the financial capability to drive these machines. Now, in the series, 12 young Indians will line up in them,” he says.
The Formula BMW series was introduced in 2001 by German car manufacturers BMW to initiate young drivers, who had just graduated from karting, to proper car racing. The cars have down-force generating wings at the front and the rear, which allows the racer to corner at much higher speeds than other beginner cars. “In many ways, these cars are comparable to the ones in Formula 3. They have the same gearbox, but run at lower speeds and generate lesser downforce. These are the best cars for a kid just out of karting to get acclimatized to racing,” said Antonio Ferrari, CEO of Eurointernational, who has joined hands with JK Tyre to bring these cars to India.
Ferrari was also an aerodynamic engineer in the Ferrari F1 team during the early 80s. A handicap for Indian racers was that they got to drive these entry-level cars at a much later stage than others in the world.
Both Vettel and Rosberg were Formula BMW champions at the age of 17. However, Karun Chandok was 20 by the time he first drove a comparable machine. But that gap is now being bridged. Take the case of Arjun Maini. Aged only 15, he finished second behind 23-year-old Akhil Kushalani in the first race of the JK Tyre India Racing Series.
However, a word of caution for those who expect the move to instantly produce a host of F1 drivers from the country. Providing young drivers with the ideal start to their careers will count for nothing unless the efforts are adequately followed up.
Take for instance Armaan Ebrahim. He started off promisingly, becoming the first Indian to win a race in a Formula BMW car. But he has faded since, with only a single podium after three years in Formula 2.
“Maybe if I had better sponsorship, I could have raced some of the races that I ought to have raced. What these racers are getting are an opportunity that I did not have. I had to go abroad to drive the cars,” he said.