The Formula One teams have just landed in India, but the journalists are already out in full force to make us cringe with embarrassment.
The questionnaire is essentially the same as the one most foreigners are subjected to: all Hollywood celebrities and foreign players in the IPL go through the motions on every visit, being forced to proclaim their love for the country and talk about the “warmth” of the people (i.e. the Page 3 crowd they have the privilege of interacting with in their exclusive parties?). However, F1 drivers have a slightly longer list of questions to answer- they cannot hope to get away without mentioning Narain Karthikeyan and Force India, can they? But do you really ask a man struggling at Marussia for his opinion on an HRT driver? Karthikeyan, India’s perennial F1 hope, is no longer a fledgling in the reckoning for a seat with the frontrunners- it will probably not be long before he joins other stalwarts in the commentary box, what with the focus on broadcasting in Asia ensuring the permanent presence of Alex Yoong and Karun Chandhok in the studios. But it does seem extremely stupid to ask if it would be better for Indian racing were he in a Force India car. For one, there is precious little that is Indian about the Silverstone-based team; also, with its co-owner Vijay Mallya on the run from his troubles at Kingfisher but working hard to maintain his reputation in ridiculously exclusive F1 circles, there are surely some more interesting, incisive questions to ask?
I’m amazed that newspapers actually see fit to report that Lewis Hamilton calls India his “second home” because he has had to visit it frequently of late: once he moves to Mercedes next year and takes on new sponsorship obligations, there’ll be other untapped markets to explore and a new home found. When he says he is “stunned” by Indians’ driving skills, isn’t it less a compliment to our talents than an indictment of our poor road sense and total disrespect for rules? Most questions are innocuous, of course, and dreary only because they are so repetitive. Drivers might have to “play” cricket and talk of a Bollywood movie they supposedly enjoyed with their friends all those years ago. However, multiplied by 23 and asked without background, they do get tiresome.
F1 is a good deal about glamour, true, but let’s leave that bit of it to the grid girls. For once, let’s not show ourselves up with shoddy journalism and instead bring in people who do their homework and talk sense. Tie the celebrities up: let us not have a repeat of the Gulshan Grover episode where he talked of being bosom friends with Bernie Ecclestone, broke into dance and forced the presenter to do so, and took credit for the presence of a circuit in India.
The Indian GP is well placed in the F1 calendar, with the championship lead just having swung in Red Bull’s favour and Ferrari being forced to do more than just try to retain a lead. It wasn’t too long ago that there was a different winner in every race- one slip-up, and the championship could go either way. There are some delicious changes in the offing for next season; why not talk about them? Try and worm an engaging interview out of Kimi Raikkonen, now that’s a challenge for a worthy journalist. Bring Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean together and have some good-natured banter in the studio. For depth, ask them for their opinions on Bahrain.
There’s no point crying hoarse over being considered exotic and blaming outsiders for the way they perceive us, when we continue to reinforce the stereotypes ourselves. We don’t have to be servile: it is okay to ask hard-hitting questions and not simper and bend over to appear courteous. Bring in people who know the sport, please, and save the curry conversations for later.