Formula 1 had a very short-lived tenure in the country. The government’s stance, essentially, was that F1 is an indulgence that we can ill afford – and that motorsport isn’t actually a sport!
Whatever their rationale, they failed to see just how the global spectacle that is F1 put the likes of Singapore, Abu Dhabi and, more recently, Baku and Sochi on the map. That, notwithstanding, consider the fact that Formula 1 racers are just as fit and train just as hard as any other athletes on the planet. Plus, from a very young age, they work their way up from the lower formulas – just as you would in any other sport. Sure, you need deep pockets to succeed in racing, but that’s true of many disciplines – and that’s where sponsors come in.
So, it was ground-breaking when multiple Asia Pacific and Indian rally champion – and all-around ace behind the wheel – Gaurav Gill was recently conferred the Arjuna Award by the President of India. Recognition at the highest level is not only a proud moment for him, but also for the entire motorsport community in the country. Perhaps minds are beginning to change.
But then a tragic incident took place during the first stage at the Rally of Jodhpur. Gill, who was the first car on a narrow special stage – a closed section of road in which the crew races against the clock – came around a bend and couldn’t avoid a family of three who had made their way onto the closed stage. Why and how they got there, presumably, is under investigation but it doesn’t take away from the fact that lives were lost in a horrendous accident that should never have taken place.
News reports following the incident suggest that Gill and his co-driver have been booked for culpable homicide. While the facts are yet to be ascertained, it would be a grave injustice if he’s charged with a crime for doing exactly what he was honoured for by the highest office in our land. Of course, if any lapses occurred at an organisational level, they should be investigated.
Drivers and participants put their lives in the hands of their teams and the organisers every time they don their helmets and get into their race machines. They wear their hearts on their sleeve and let their performance do the talking – just as all sports people do. It’s time for the powers at be to recognise the reasons why Gill was honoured in the first place – for bringing glory to our country and excelling on the global stage. It’s only natural, under the grave circumstances, for emotions to run high but that’s exactly why it’s even more important to look at the situation objectively and apportion blame only where it’s truly due. After all, the turn of events is traumatic enough as it is.
In a country that has the worst road safety record on the planet, rallying and racing performed to international standards in a controlled environment can actually be a powerful tool to demonstrate the virtues of a safety-first mindset – something that’s, unfortunately, an alien concept in our country. In the West, the motorsport culture is all pervasive. During the Mille Miglia in Italy, restaurants on the race route set out tables on sidewalks so that patrons can enjoy watching the cars go by during their dinner. At Le Mans, you’ll find entire families – little children in tow – enjoying the 24-hour spectacle during the wee hours of the morning. For that matter, during the heyday of Indian motorsport, the Sholavaram airstrip would attract up to 50,000 people on a regular Sunday of racing.
Not only does motorsport push the boundaries of technology, attract the brightest engineering minds, embrace the god given talent of athletes like Gaurav Gill, but it’s also a treat to watch – a true spectacle that pushes all the right buttons and leaves you awe struck! Well, for some of us anyway.
I can only hope that better sense prevails in the aftermath of this dreadful event, and we use this tragedy to inculcate better safety measures on our roads and during our race meetings.
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