Column : Why do we need a national F1 brand

Written by Parthasinha | Partha Sinha | Updated: Oct 29 2011, 08:13am hrs
Very soon, on the Buddh International circuit near Delhi, India will compete with Ferrari, Mercedes, Sauber, Renault and many such corporate names. No, the contest will not be between France, Germany and Indiait will be between some teams branded by global corporations and a team bearing a country brand. We understand that India is pretty much a global brand

todaybut does it justify naming an F1 team Force India

India is possibly the only nation that is open to sponsorship. The greatest example of that is the Indian cricket team. The team is owned by a private body called the BCCIbut they are pretty much free to sell national pride and jingoism to a sponsor. Naming a team Force India is an extension of the same thought process.

F1 is a marginal sporting activity in India. The only hope the sponsors and the team owners have is to create a national feeling so that people get interested in the sport and the team. But how exactly is the national pride being awakened The driver Adrian Sutil is from Germany and Paul di Resta is from Scotland. The car has a Mercedes-Benz engine and Pirelli tyres. The closest it comes to anything national is the money put in by Vijay Mallya and Sahara. Unless, of course, we consider the tricolour used in the logo, and the car graphics are sufficiently national.

The idea of nationalism in India is fairly complicated. Every Indian is a member of a linguistic and ethnic community along with his/her national identity. So, the singular idea of nationalism comes to the fore only when the Indian cricket team wins a match or if the Indian Army registers a victory at Kargil. The Sahara group has been sponsoring Indian cricket, the most significant face of nationalism for a long time, and in the process has been claiming to be the face of India in many ways. No wonder they were the first one to sponsor the team India for the racethe Indian Army is not yet open to sponsorship.

We, as a nation, are extremely comfortable about letting our national symbols and icons being misused. The tricolour can be used by any private owner to fulfil any commercial ambition. The Force India team has gone one step forward and even used the word India as a part of their branding. The Website design of Force India closely resembles the way an Independence Day or a Republic Day celebration looks. In their advert, Shah Rukh Khan says with jingoistic intensity that the time has come to let the world know that India has arrived. I must admit that not having the national flag waving at the end of the advert left me a little disappointed.

The new-found confidence in India comes from a sense of being globally competitive. But that is usually based on some concrete evidencebe it skilled human resources, a strong base of technical education or the state of the nations economy (relatively speaking, of course). But Force India wanted to ride on the sense of competitiveness with virtually nothing when they started. The engine, the drivers and the results were all a part of unqualified disaster in 2008. Although the subsequent changes have improved the performance, the team is still far from being a force to reckon with.

Typically, in the F1 circuit, people feel national pride around the driverspretty much like any other individual sport like tennis, badminton, etc. The true test of national pride and of announcing Indian arrival on the worldwide stage will be our ability to create world-class drivers. Unless, of course, we believe that Indian companies are capable of building engines that can give Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault a run for their money.

For any competition, the contenders need to be on an equal footing. Even during a cricket match (which arguably is our biggest display of nationalism), we are pitted against another nation. But what happens if, by chance, the Force India team wins a race Are we supposed to celebrate an Indian victory over Ferrari and Mercedes Or is our national sense of pride supposed to be competition agnostic

The time has come for the government to exercise some restraint in throwing the nation open for private sponsorship. Otherwise the future of India will soon become just a business proposition to attract the Indian population and their pockets. Let us compete in the global economic forumwe dont need to become a contender on the F1 tracks.

The author is managing partner, BBH India