Monisha Kaltenborn Narang about Sauber, India and the Indian Grand Prix
By Berthold Bouman
Monisha Kaltenborn Narang is her full name, and she’s the only female Team Principal in the entire history of Formula One, as her boss Peter Sauber retired last week and appointed her his successor, she also owns one-third of the Swiss team, and with the Indian Grand Prix to take place next week, now’s a good time to get to know her a little bit better.
Kaltenborn is proud of her Indian heritage, but rarely uses her second surname Narang, “I really like my Indian name. My Indian heritage and my parents’ family mean a great deal to me, which is why I never wanted to give up Narang. On the other hand, you have to admit that double-barrelled names aren’t very practical in day-to-day business operations. That’s why I only rarely use my full name,” she said in an interview today.
Sauber is getting ready for the Indian Grand Prix next weekend, obviously a special event for Kaltenborn, asked what her home Grand Prix means to her she said, “I really have to distinguish between the professional and the private side. From the sports point of view, as far as the Sauber F1 Team is concerned the Indian GP is a race like any other, with the same meticulous preparations and the same aspiration to achieve the best possible result.”
“From a personal point of view,” she said, “it’s rather different. Obviously I’m particularly looking forward to this race in my home country. As I travel to all the Grands Prix as part of my job, I don’t have time for private trips to India. During my school and university days I would go there regularly. My husband Jens and I celebrated our marriage in India with a fabulous and very happy Hindu ritual. I feel very attached to India.”
Asked about her best memories of India she had no doubt in her mind, “My wonderful childhood. Since I was their only grandchild for a long time, my grandparents spoilt me rotten, and we had three delightful dogs. Up to the age of eight I attended Welham Girls’ High School in Dehradun, my birthplace and one of the oldest and most traditional cities in the north of this vast country. It was a very happy time with marvellous friendships.”
In 1979 her parents decided to emigrate to give their daughter a better education, and they ended up in Austria. “Originally the plan was to find a new home in an English-speaking country,” Kaltenborn said. “But Vienna was the first stop on our journey because an uncle of my father’s was working at the atomic agency there. We liked it and so we stayed.”
“I was sent straight to an Austrian rather than an international school, so I learnt the language very quickly and became integrated,” she explained. She later completed law school in Vienna and became an Austrian citizen.”
Quizzed about her Indian roots she said, “I don’t think you ever lose your roots, and anyway you can tell where I’m from just by looking at me. I also think I have a certain serenity and openness you might describe as Indian. That includes shrugging off negative experiences and focusing positively on the future — something that is very important in an environment as competitive as Formula One.”
Does she still speak Hindi? “It’s no longer as good as I’d like it to be. But I do try to talk Hindi with the children occasionally. Our son is ten years old, our daughter seven, and I’d like them to learn the language. But my parents are better teachers than me!”
Asked about how important Formula One is in a country like India she replied, “Basically it’s difficult for any sport to find a place in India next to cricket. But I do think that the interest in Formula One has risen significantly since its debut last year.
“At least the media interest we are experiencing as a team would strongly indicate that. It seems right that India, as an upwardly mobile nation, a huge marketplace and a high-tech location, has found a place in the Formula One calendar with its excellently trained engineers. Both Formula One and the country can benefit from it.”
Back to her role of Team Principal, and asked what she thinks about the achievements of the Sauber team so far this season she said, “With four podium places and now 116 world championship points, we can certainly be proud of our achievements so far as a private team. Of course there have been races where things didn’t go to plan and we forfeited valuable points.”
And she added, “Our car, the Sauber C31-Ferrari, is a great success and has proved competitive on virtually any kind of circuit. Our ambitious goal remains to finish fifth in the Constructors’ World Championship. And I have the utmost confidence both in our team at Hinwil and in the crew at the track along with our two drivers, Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Pérez.”