As far as rites of passages go, earning the driving license after turning 18 continues to hold a special meaning for young millennials…and, presently, the Gen Z in India.
It has never been just about learning a fundamental life skill. Rather, we continue to exalt the moment as one of pride, where you finally tame a rumbling, precision-engineered beast, signalling a gear shift to adulthood. Or you find the keys to thrill and freedom. But either way, this love affair with driving in the country often ends there (or extends till we have had our share of road trips and off-roading). Or does it? Because deep into the defiant, trendsetting hearts of India’s young millennials and Gen Z, there’s a growing fire…one that desires nothing more than to burn some rubber on the asphalt. Cue: motorsport, especially F4 racing.
Wheels of Passion
What you saw just the other week as Max Verstappen won his first world championship was another electrifying glimpse into the top tier of racing: F1. In that regard, F4 might sound tame. But ask youngsters like Mira Erda and Sneha Sharma in India who have challenged more than just odds to make it, and they’ll swear by F4’s untapped potential in turning the ‘racing as a career’ narrative in India upside down.
Launched in 2014, FIA Formula 4 represents a fantastic opportunity for the budding, young race car drivers of the world to level up from go-karting to serious open-wheel racing. Just last year, F4 arrived in India as FIA sanctioned Regional F3 and F4 championships to be organised in the country in 2022. What young drivers in India are staring at now is a golden ticket to rack up 40 official points over 3 years and become eligible for the FIA superlicense to race in F1!
But there’s more to F4 than what meets the eye. It is a more affordable and accessible platform where the young driving enthusiasts in India can unleash and master their inner Schumacher – and drive a culture of changing attitudes towards the sport.
Millennials & Gen Z: Steering Clear of the Norm
If you haven’t been noticing, young Indian generations with a keen interest in the unconventional are done with their foot off the gas. Growing up as the Internet generation, they have had a steady supply of the grand prix era throughout their budding years. Far be it from them to look at Karthikeyan or Chandok with the question, ‘What might have been?’. Rather, they look up to them with inspiration and ambition: “If they can, I can!”
Like other hustlers of their generation, the protagonists of India’s thriving racing subculture have had to battle more off the track than on it. The pressure of academics and falling in line with typical jobs is a given. ‘Speed thrills but kills’ has been another cultural truism that has been a detriment tO the Indian perspective on motorsport. A dangerous hobby. A huge professional risk. Hooliganism. Or simply far too expensive a passion to pursue.
But Gen Z remains unwavering in its conviction. Forget dotting the Is or crossing the Ts in client mails every morning. They would rather be crossing the chequered flag. Some began dabbling in it after starting off as ardent automobile and racing bloggers. Today, they’re doing their talking both on virtual platforms like Instagram and YouTube as well as spending weekends at the likes of Buddh International Circuit participating in local series and racing championships. And they’re not just tuning up their driving skills but also technical skills through online and offline forums and events.
Indian and global auto manufacturers are now investing seriously in the sport as well – launching training academies and competitive programs. All because the new, young, unapologetically ambitious India dares to do what floats its boAt and make the nation give up its motorsport misgivings, once and for all.
Take pioneering F4 racer Mira Erda, for example, who spent her early years battling the noise of ‘you can’t do it’. Now, nothing else matters to her at the sight of the track – her real home for the past 12 years. In 2017, she became the first Indian woman to race in the prestigious Euro JK series. At the end of the day, Mira Erda, and the countless young guns she has inspired, epitomise what we boAtheads like to say: when you’re free to race away from the herd, you’re free to become who you’re meant to be.
What will you become?