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September 1, 2009

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India bursts with pride after finish on podium

FORCE India's first podium finish at the Belgian Grand Prix has raised expectations in the country of more consistent performances and of having an Indian driver on board the two-year-old team.

Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella finished second on Sunday in Belgium to log the Indian team's first points in F1, triggering celebrations in the country of 1.1 billion people.

Cricket-crazy India is trying to shed its tag of being a one-sport nation and interest in Formula One has sped ahead since Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian driver in the series in 2005.

Liquor baron Vijay Mallya bought into the Spyker team two years ago and renamed it Force India but there is no Indian driver now in F1.

"Being a motor sport enthusiast and involved in the sport in the country, I feel tremendous pride in seeing an Indian-owned team up there at the pinnacle of motor sport," said Sanjay Sharma, head of motor sports division of tire manufacturer JK Tyre.

"You are talking of a team that is just 30 races old, about a team that has changed its technical team twice in two years, about a team that is on the low end in a high budget sport," Sharma said yesterday.

"But look at the man (Mallya) and his conviction in his dream and his drivers. This was no fluke. This is just the start. We are bound to see more Indian involvement in F1."

Next hope

India hopes to host a Formula One grand prix in 2011 despite exchange control obstacles and Force India's success is expected to generate more interest in the build up to the event.

"With F1 the second largest watched sport in the world after World Cup soccer, just to have the name Force India up there is a matter of huge pride for 1.1 billion Indians," said Vicky Chandhok, former president of the Indian motor sport body.

Chandhok's son Karun is seen as India's next F1 hope and he is now competing in the GP2 series.

"Surely, the next thing would be to have an Indian driver on the Indian team," said Jiju Jacob, a Chennai-based motor racing fan. "We need to see if they are good enough first."

Meanwhile, F1's governing body is investigating "alleged incidents" from a previous race, believed to be an accident at last year's Singapore Grand Prix that helped Fernando Alonso secure victory for Renault.

Brazilian TV station Globo reported on Sunday that Nelson Piquet Jr. was ordered to crash into a wall during the night race so that teammate Alonso could take advantage of an early pit stop.

Piquet Jr. crashed heavily on the 13th lap and Alonso's gamble to run a short 12-lap strategy before pitting paid off as the Spanish driver went on to score an unlikely victory.

The FIA would not confirm it was investigating that incident, only "alleged incidents at a previous Formula One world championship event."


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