The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mumbai flickers on F1 mirror

London, Feb. 12: India's new Formula 1 hero, Narain Karthikeyan, with his helmet proclaiming the all important word 'Tata', made an important debut last night ' on BBC television at prime time.

The Formula 1 financier, Bernie Ecclestone, also appeared on the main BBC TV news bulletin at 10pm to predict that India will host Grand Prix racing 'within three years'.

The race would probably take place in Mumbai, Ecclestone added.

The opening shot in the thrilling news footage was of 28-year-old Karthikeyan's eyes shining below his fire proof helmet. He was said to be wearing the saffron, white and green of the Indian flag, though, frankly, the overall impression was of a blur of yellow as his Jordan Toyota EJ15 took off in a flash of flying spray. It was certainly very exciting.

Part of the film switched to Delhi, with the reporter saying that with a population of a billion and a growing middle class, India was ready for racing. After footage of go-cart racing in the Indian capital, a young boy boasted that before long, F1 racing in India would have a bigger following than cricket.

Ecclestone, an adventurous businessman aged 74. who did a bit of racing in Monte Carlo and other circuits in his youth, certainly hopes so. He stirred up a huge political controversy by donating Pound1million to the Labour Party when it was discovered that he ' unlike other advertisers ' had permission to advertise cigarettes. In the end, an embarrassed Tony Blair was forced to hand the money back to Ecclestone.

Ecclestone has been keen to bring F1 racing to India for 10 years and may feel his time has arrived.

Last night he said India would 'definitely' have an F1 race within three years and that 'it's just a case of where'.

Calcutta was once considered as a possible venue, and then Hyderabad before the ouster of Chandrababu Naidu, who shared Ecclestone's dream. Now it would 'probably end up' in Mumbai, Ecclestone said.

Karthikeyan himself was interviewed on the programme and in a sound bite said that 'it has always been my dream ever since I was a little boy' to be a racing driver. He also felt that the time was right for India to take up motor sport.

These are early days for Karthikeyan and Jordan's other recruit, the Portuguese driver, Tiago Monteiro, who is also 28. After testing their machine in rain affected Silverstone, the pair move this week to Barcelona for further checks on their car.

Karthikeyan has a lot to prove. While it is certainly true that he would not have been taken on had he not been gifted, some western racing sources are suggesting, with characteristic bitchiness, that 'the 28-year-old from Chennai has been given the drive because he has substantial sponsorship funds behind him'.

He is, no doubt, seen as the proverbial 'sprat to catch the mackerel' - the man who will lead the F1 organisers in the west to rich potential investors in India.

Without Tata's backing, Karthikeyan might not have been taken on by Jordan. Tata Consultancy Services has also signed a deal to provide information technology to Ferrari.

The problems of bringing F1 Grand Prix to India should not be underestimated. Apart from the circuit, India would have to provide the back-up.

Asked for the criteria used to determine which countries got the F1 races and which didn't, Ecclestone once replied: 'You just look at the whole package and say, 'Do we work in a good environment. Is there a town nearby. Is it being supported locally' It is not easy to pop over to India and China, for example. Nowadays we use six, going on seven Jumbos, to move the equipment around and to get six Jumbos out of the air and positioned is not easy.'

For some years, British racing journalists and magazines have been taking an interest in Karthikeyan.

He 'comes from a racing background as the son of former national rally champion G.R. Karthikeyan,' one pointed out, adding that the Indian 'has built his reputation over the years as a fast, but erratic, driver with a special flair on wet tracks.'

The Daily Telegraph's motoring correspondent noted that Karthikeyan made history when he appeared at Silverstone.

'A minimalist Silverstone in February could hardly be further removed from the majesty of Melbourne in March, where Narain Karthikeyan will line up alongside the world's motor racing elite,' the paper reported.

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