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Aug 31, 2009 at 11:58pm IST

Force India's success has India excited

Chennai: Force India's first podium finish at the Belgian Grand Prix has raised expectation 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 to log the Indian team's first points in F1, triggering wild celebrations in the country of 1.1 billion people starved of sporting success.

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

GETTING BUBBLY: Force India driver Fisichella at the Belgian F1 Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamps.

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

"Being a motorsport 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 motorsport," said Sanjay Sharma, head of motorsports division of tyre manufacturer JK Tyre.

Huge pride

"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 told Reuters on Monday.

"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."

India hopes to host a Formula One grand prix in 2011 despite exchange control obstacles and Force India's success is expected to generate further 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 motorsport body.

Chandhok's son Karun is seen as India's next Formula One hope and is currently 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."