India and Formula 1 have a rocky past. Now a group of Indian entrepreneurs is aiming to reconcile their country with single-seaters, by creating the Formula Regional Indian Championship (FRIC) and Indian F4. Aditya Patel is one of them. F1 Feeder Series had a chance to talk to the former racing driver about affordable racing, Prema’s support, the postponement of the series and a bright future for open-wheel racing in India.
By Perceval Wolff
Patel is not just anybody in Indian motorsport. After a successful international career in motorsport (ADAC GT Masters, Audi LMS Cup, GT World Challenge and more) he got together with former driver Armaan Ebrahim (now Mumbai Falcons Team Principal) and business partners Akhilesh Reddy and Navjeet Gadhoke, to create the first FIA-certified Indian feeder series. European powerhouse Prema Powerteam will run all the cars.
One step back, two steps forward
Originally planned for next month, FRIC and Indian F4 were postponed to November and December 2022 because of the pandemic’s resurgence. It will still run five back-to-back weekends though, when most of the major European feeder series will have concluded their season. But despite the setback, the growing ambitions of the creators haven’t changed..
“The good thing about November-December is that a lot of championships will have just ended, so it will draw a lot of attention to us as well”, says Patel. “And from the feedback we’ve got from the drivers after we’ve changed the dates, even more drivers are looking forward to our championships.”
And even though November and December are usually reserved for European winter testing, Aditya Patel is confident about the strength of his championships. “At the end of the day, there is still a lot of interest from drivers who want to actually race in a championship, get Super Licence points, get track time, but also race for a team like Prema. I think there are lots of things going in our favour.”
Weekend format and broadcasting
Patel also revealed how the race weekends are going to be organised, inspired by the previous format of FREC and the current one of French F4: “We will have three races per weekend, which will make fifteen races in a season. We will have one qualifying session. The fastest lap will award pole position for Race 1, and the pole position for Race 3 will be awarded according to the 2nd fastest lap of every driver at the qualifying session. And there will be a reverse grid for Race 2”.
Even though the championship won’t start until November, there have been ongoing discussions concerning the championship’s broadcasting. “The main priority is to get an international TV distributor that can distribute to different TV channels around the world. And for countries that don’t have the TV rights, obviously we would look at broadcasting on YouTube as well, to make it available for people all around the globe.”
Accessibility to the sport
33-year-old Patel highlights the importance of international exposure for Indian feeder series as a tool to help local drivers sign sponsors. “Motorsport has always been an expensive sport. Accessibility has always been a huge issue when it came to motorsport in India. Before FRIC and Indian F4, to have a career, Indian drivers had no choice but to step out of the country and come to Europe, travelling all around the world at a very young age. And it’s nearly impossible to afford this for Indian go-kart drivers.”
Patel remembers how hard his first racing years were. “Something that I personally missed during my early days was just testing. Other drivers were doing plenty of testing days before the start of a championship. I would do one, maybe two days if I was lucky, because that was all I could afford.”
“The first step is to make motorsport affordable, to bring feeder series in India in order to offer young drivers the best conditions to start their single-seaters career. To offer them test days and races with one of the most attractive packages for drivers with the cars being run by Prema Racing. I wish I had this opportunity when I was younger.”
New racetracks in India
Patel knows there is a need for more racetracks to make motorsport more accessible to the fans. “India is a big country, and if you want people from around the country to be a part of it, you need to be closer to their home. In Germany, France or the UK, you have a racetrack one or two hours from your home by car. Whereas in India, you have to take a flight which may take two or three hours to go to another part of the country, and then take the car or the bus to have access to the racetrack.”
“Together with our partners, we’re starting to set up new circuits all around the country. There is going to be the first ever Indian street circuit in Hyderabad, which will be very accessible for fans. And we will create some permanent racetracks, near Coimbatore and Mumbai. We have some really good potential: for the next three to four years, we could have three to four new permanent race tracks. And that will really help the sport to grow.”
With FRIC and Indian F4 being single-make and single-team championships, the aim is to give the same opportunities to all drivers. “When I was younger, I also raced in championships which were single-make, and I straight away felt it was much more down to my performances. Drivers can’t complain anymore about their team, their package, the best you can do is to put your head down and do your best to win the race”, he explained.
The Indian driver thanks Prema Racing for supporting this championship. “It immediately becomes an attractive championship when you know that Prema is involved. Everybody has an equal opportunity to win these championships and it’s a very high-quality package, so that really puts us in an attractive position for drivers.”
Patel also revealed that the driver line-up will mainly be chosen by the organizers of the championships and Prema Racing. “There are a lot of Indian youngsters in go-karts who are looking to take the next step into Indian F4, so it’s down to us to make a shortlist of the drivers, based on their performances. We also would like to have some F4 international drivers.”
“When it comes to FRIC, we don’t have enough Indian drivers right now at this level, so we will mostly see a lot of international drivers coming and taking part in the Formula Regional championship.”
FRIC and Indian F4 are not the first ever Indian feeder series. Until two years ago, the Madras Motor Sports club ran the MRF Challenge, a winter series which welcomed the likes of Mick Schumacher, Pietro Fittipaldi and Conor Daly. What are the differences between these two series?
“MRF Challenge 2000 was a great championship with cars that were very similar to the Formula Renault ones. They also welcomed a lot of drivers from all around the world but unfortunately it didn’t have many Indian drivers. And with new rules, new safety regulations, halo, etc. the cars had become obsolete.
“But as far as our championship goes, it’s more internationally recognised and it is FIA-certified. We basically run the same cars as in British or Italian F4 or in FRECA. And you get as many Super Licence points as other national F4 championships for Indian F4 and as Formula Regional Japan or Americas for FRIC.”
Future and objectives
What are the objectives for the first season of FRIC and Indian F4? “To have an international presence with drivers coming from Europe, America, Asia and obviously India. It will be the best way to see that we are a nation where drivers want to come to race. Ultimately, in the long term, if we can get an Indian driver who comes from these championships and starts winning at an international level: FRAC, FIA F3, F2, etc. that would be the ultimate success.”
Patel is ambitious about the future of FRIC and Indian F4, and could see the series move away from the winter-slot. “Different parts of the country have different weather at the same time of the year. So obviously, with more and more racetracks, we could be able to organise championships that will go on through the course of the year and not only as a winter series.”
Header photo credit: Vaqaas Mansuri