What happened to Formula One in India?




Five years ago when the plans to build an International race track in India was being speculated, there were many who criticised its economic and social viability. However, optimism and a huge splurge in money from the private firms made the Indian Grand Prix a reality. It was celebrated with a huge advertising campaign and spread around the world that India was ready to host an International race of Formula One.

What happened to Formula One in India?

What happened to Formula One in India?

The first ever Formula One race in India took place as the 17th race on 30th September of the 2011 season, won by Sebastian Vettel. The next two years saw the same man win the Indian GP hosted in the newly constructed Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, near New Delhi. The Indian GP has been axed last year and this year too has not been able to make it into the F1 calendar, citing tax problems with the Uttar Pradesh government as the reason. The Uttar Pradesh government does not see Formula One as a sport but entertainment and thus levied heavy tax which is being currently contested in court.

Missing out on the action last year and again this year as well, questions have come up again regarding the intentions as the Indian GP has not been able to attract the kind of support that was expected. The Indian GP was estimated to generate around $150 million in revenue and employ more than 10,000 people directly and indirectly. The opportunity for the corporates to advertise and showcase their brands internationally was expected to be a huge incentive. Airtel took the initiative to host all the three Indian Grand Prixes. The expectations have not been met on multiple fronts.

With a new circuit and three years of experience of hoisting Formula One races, India doesn’t seem to have made any progress. It is not “officially” recognised as a sport in the country yet and the fact that Jaypee Sports International Limited, the organisers of the Buddha International Circuit is in financial troubles of their own, who invested close to $500 million to build the track. These races are very expensive to host and usually the government shares the burden in most of the countries. In India however, it is not so. The government is not interested in promoting a “sport” which it doesn’t recognise. Moreover, being a developing nation, the Indian government is not at liberality to spend on an expensive and glamourous sport like Formula One where more than half the country still dwells under the poverty line with a high illiteracy rate.

Also, the awareness had been quite low till the races were actually held. Indians are cricket crazy and the complex and technologically advanced sport doesn’t excite the average Indian. Ticket prices are also an issue; high Formula One prices deter people from coming to watch the racing event as Indians are always conscious of how the money is spent. Motorsport in India is not in the limelight and no Indian racer has been able to make it big in the Formula One arena.

Narian Karthiyean was the first Indian to drive in a F1 car for Jordan but he failed to impress and was very erratic driving style. Karan Chandok too had his go in a F1 car and also did a stint as a race commentator however, has not been able to bag a permanent seat for a team. Funds and sponsorship is the biggest problem for an Indian driver. TATA, Sahara and Kingfisher were the biggest sponsorsbut it is not enough for the sustenance of the sport without huge fan following. Force India is the most significant contribution by an Indian in the F1 arena when Indian liquor baron Vijay Mallya bought the Skypar team. However, the team is based in the UK and no privileges, what-so-ever, are provided to the Indian engineers or drivers to enter through it.

Talks are still on to bring back Indian Grand Prix in 2016 but Bernie Ecclestone is tight lipped about future of F1 in India. He has his hands full with newer countries trying to get a bit of the F1 glamour. F1 calendar has become packed and more races cannot be added to a season. So Bernie has the option to pick and choose the highest bidder for his Formula One races and this is where Indian motorsports loses out.

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Anjan K Merkap

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