"Don't see Indian GP returning for a while, but immense F1 potential in India": In conversation with Armaan Ebrahim
Born into motorsport and a talent unto himself, Armaan Ebrahim is currently racing in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series after having made his debut in 2015. The 25-year-old participates in the sportscar racing series full-time. He has been associated with sports lifestyle brand PUMA since 2012, ahead of his participation in the Indy Lights championship, and that relationship continues to this day.
The racing prodigy started off karting, and by 15 had won the Formula LGB championship. He drove 6 races in the A1 Grand Prix – but a lack of funds saw the team disbanded – and funding still remains a problem, he says, for the younger racers, for those who want to pursue motorsport as a career.
Does he think that affects youngsters joining motorsport in the country, I ask?
Of course. We have absolutely no dearth of talent. There are domestic champions in India in every single category. Karting. Every level of junior single seater racing, you name it and there are talented youth there.
We also have enough junior championships. And there are many, many talented kids who take part. The cars are the same worldwide, too. The Rotax Max championships are held worldwide, and India has them too.
[The championships are held in multiple locations worldwide throughout the year, and culminate in the Grand Finals at the end of the year to determine the title winner.]
That contest is properly equal, because they use the same engines worldwide. They have to be held to the exact same standard, and are judged by exactly the same parameters as a result.
You see 8-12 year old kids – young, raw skills, all pushing to win these competitions. They’re flat-out racing, as fast as the cars and their skill will allow, and even at that age they are passionate about racing, Ebrahim says.
“I’ve interacted with a number of them,” he says. “Training is essential to hone their skills, but the problem is the high cost. It becomes extremely expensive to pursue motorsports, to take it forward as a career, and these kids often don’t have the funding they need.”
What, then, can be done? Is motorsport not big enough in India?
“That’s not the case,” Ebrahim says. There are fans, there is interest. It could be much bigger if there were an actual, tangible connect in terms of an international event with India. This does not even need to be a Grand Prix,” he says.
But there has in the past been an Indian Grand Prix. Inaugurated in 2011 and won by then-Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, it lasted only three seasons, run into the ground by administrative issues, and, Bernie Ecclestone alleged, corruption.
“I don’t know about the corruption, but there are definitive issues with organization and administration that are preventing the Indian Grand Prix from returning,” Ebrahim says. “The interest is there, but corporates also need to become more involved. Once they get more involved in the process, it will attract attention, money, and interest. Realistically speaking, it doesn’t look like there will be an Indian Grand Prix again in the near future, not maybe 3, 4, 5 years down the line.”
It’s also why he thinks sportscars are the primary future of motor racing. “There are more manufacturers involved, and the sportscar market is getting stronger by the year. There is already a market, lots of sponsors, and people watch it. “
“We have lots of kids who are training, who are really, really good at it – but because it’s expensive to sustain a motorsport career and we don’t have as much publicity, sponsors are not as forthcoming, and many of these kids are forced to drop out. There’s also a perception, still, of it not being a ‘career’, or at least a primary one – and so many kids drop out due to their academics, or parents’ wishes. With more attention, these young children in training could definitely be on the world stage – their speed and talent prove it.”
Thoughts on F1
Given Ebrahim is a passionate racer, he also spoke of the 2015 and 2016 F1 seasons. “McLaren could come back, they’ve looked positive in testing,” he says.
[Alonso and Button finished at 12th and 13th at qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, with none of the reliability problems from 2015, but with Alonso's collision and Button’s non-points finish, fortunes appear not to have changed much for the team.]
Ebrahim picked Williams to be a strong contender this season. “Not for the title, that will likely be Mercedes or Ferrari, but Williams will finish near the top this year. They’re very good, new design, and both drivers are brilliant.”
He was right – the team, running on Mercedes power again, made aerodynamic changes ahead of the 2016 season, changes that have stood them in good stead. Felipe Massa had a top 5 finish, with teammate Valtteri Bottas in 8th at the Australian Grand Prix.
What’s next for Ebrahim himself? The racer was a runner-up in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo – in his debut year, and this despite technical issues and a DNS in the season. He is looking forward to the 2016 season, having confirmed his spot.
He’s driven in Formula BMW, Formula Renault, Formula Two and Indy, and after over a decade in motorsport firmly says sportscar racing is his favourite – and here to stay – as is he.