India fights to keep under-threat GP
Greater Noida: Indian Grand Prix organisers say they`re determined to keep their Formula One status as fears mount that this weekend`s race could be the last to be hosted in the country.
With India missing from the 2014 schedule due to what promoters call "logistical" reasons, it remains uncertain whether the race will return to the USD 450 million Buddh International Circuit on the outskirts of New Delhi.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said that India, gearing up to host its third race on Sunday, will be back in early 2015 as he rejigs a packed calendar.
Vicky Chandhok, who heads the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, is hoping a successful race on Sunday -- when Sebastian Vettel is likely to seal the world title -- will help ensure Formula One returns.
"With venues in other countries also fighting for slots, we can`t afford to miss out in 2015," Chandhok, father of racing driver Karun.
"But I am optimistic that the promoters will work out an agreement with Formula One to have two more races. We have a great facility here."
Ecclestone was quoted as saying in July that "political" matters caused India to miss out next year, but the event`s promoters were confident they will see out their five-race contract.
"If the Indian GP is not being held in 2014 it is entirely for logistical reasons," said Sameer Gaur, CEO of privately owned Jaypee Sports International Limited (JPSI).
"They wanted us to hold the race in March, but it was not practical to host one now and another in six months. But there should be no doubt that we will be back in 2015."
The Indian GP has been hit by a troubled economy and sliding rupee, government apathy towards the sport, a lop-sided financial arrangement and the lack of a local driver.
The promoters pay about $40-45 million to Formula One every year as a licensing fee and about $1.6 million to the Indian government for permission to hold the race.
With all advertising and merchandising revenue also going to F1, the only source of income for the promoters is from the sale of tickets, which has dropped markedly.
The inaugural race in 2011 drew some 95,000 spectators to the 100,000-capacity circuit, but the numbers fell to around 65,000 last year. Sluggish ticket sales this year could see figures drop further.
In another financial hit, the government`s refusal to recognise Formula One as a sport means the organisers need to pay tax and duties on everything connected with the race.
And this week the state government of Uttar Pradesh, where the circuit is located, slapped entertainment tax on each ticket, effective from this year onwards.
With the odds stacked against the race`s private backers, who built the circuit from scratch as part of a major property development, observers are pessimistic.
"If we get another race, it will be by default, not by design," seasoned motorsports writer Harish Samtani said. "But I am not optimistic. F1 is not meant for this country.
"F1 is not sustainable here. Our people don`t understand what is essentially a niche sport. Besides, high costs are involved and money is at a premium everywhere in the world, more so in India."
Sauber`s India-born boss Monisha Kaltenborn also said it will not be easy for the country to return to the Formula One circuit after a hiatus next year.
"I think it is very difficult to come back to a country when you have left it," Kaltenborn was quoted as saying by Autosport.com.
"We have not been able to market ourselves properly in India. When you know you are not planning to be there the next year, maybe the interest has gone down."