I still remember when we first heard about India having its own Formula 1 fixture.
That was around two years back, and having been enthralled the previous year by a young Sebastien Vettel, who looked far younger than his birth certificate would have suggested, and showed far more maturity in the Red Bull car than his looks might have suggested, I was bouncing off the walls with poorly concealed excitement. It is not unfair to say that the inaugural Indian Grand Prix lived up to every inch of its hype and expectations.
Now here we are, in the year 2012, and the second edition of the exceedingly extravagant racing event seems to have lost a bit of its sheen from last year. Sure, the race in itself was, honestly, much more exciting and was of infinitely more significance with respect to the championship. Vettel’s win at the Buddh International Circuit, could prove to be the turning point of the championship. But the event lacked the buzz of last year, and the ‘First Indian GP’ tag having gone, the excitement was considerably lessened, as the attendance showed.
So, is that going to be the future trend for yet another sport trying to seduce a country, where half of the population is infatuated with the bat and ball game? Maybe so. Maybe not; hopefully not.
But is the Formula 1 a little too rich for a country like India, where only the likes of Chennai and Coimbatore can boast of quality racing culture and quality drivers’ production? I mean, just landing a seat in teams like Hispania Racing costs around $10 million for an aspiring driver. That seems like a joke, when compared to the bare minimum you require for cricket, or football.
Even then, if you have the skills in cricket or football, people would line up just to pay for your kit. And also, does it make any sense to have a Grand Prix in India?
Well, the perks are – it establishes India as a reliable venue to host other upcoming international sporting events. It is a sign of encouragement for motor sports in India, and it also enhances the country’s prestige in itself. To have a Grand Prix in India, currently makes it one out of just twenty venues around the world to hold that honour.
But consider the financial burdens it imposes on an economically backward(ish?) country, especially considering the state of other countries who have GPs, like Australia, Singapore, Abu Dhabi etc. The cost of building a brand new permanent circuit can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
$400 million dollars were invested on the track alone, and a further amount of $10 million is to be paid for every Grand Prix. In a country where around 60% of the people are below the generally agreed upon ‘below-poverty-line’ (living on less than $2 per day, according to World Bank in 2011), it is quite obvious that F1 is popular almost entirely with the nouveau riche breed of upper class Indians, comprising mostly of those in the age group between 15-30. So, is the hosting of the Grand Prix a bit of a squeeze for a struggling Indian economy? Well, you could say so.
However, Formula 1 is a giver. The revenue that is generated from all angles of the Grand Prix, amounts to staggering figures. Ticket sales, broadcasting and advertising are bumper prizes in F1 because in terms of viewership, the sport is right up there with the likes of the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. The official caterer for the Grand Prix generates around $6 million dollars through the course of the event, from a target audience of around 300,000. That’s saying something.
Besides, the maintenance of a world class racing circuit can’t be managed by just a couple of stewards here and there and a few janitors to sweep up every day. You would think that a circuit which is spread over an area of 874 acres would employ a huge task force for its upkeep. And the circuit can also generate revenue from various other sources, most notably like a MotoGP Indian Grand Prix in 2013.
Although there are a considerable number of people who think that the F1 is more of a bane than a boon for India, I personally disagree, and think that it should be given a couple more years of observation. Hopefully, people will start to see that although the whole concept sounds like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up money at an alarming rate at first, it is undoubtedly –as the annual revenue of the BIC would illustrate –a real money train.
And I think India must get on it.