Bureaucracy gets in the way
On a global level, Formula 1 needs no introduction. The pinnacle of auto racing and engineering itself, these marvels of science and technology are the closest some of us will ever come to witnessing that space age science stuff they do behind closed doors in secret research facilities. In India though, the sport is greeted by a massive dose of indifference and red tape.
To put the previous statement into context, let us look at the Chinese Grand Prix. The idea of a Chinese Grand prix was born in the early 90s. This idea manifested in the form of the Zhuhai International Circuit. Despite being included in the provisional 1999 F1 calendar, they were dropped after failing to meet the high standards set by the FIA, the governing body for Formula 1. Despite this enormous setback, China labored on and finally hosted the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in the Shanghai International Circuit in 2004.
Facing numerous other setbacks and doubts, the Chinese Grand prix has managed to keep itself on the F1 calendar for 11 years, with a new agreement pushing it to until 2017. Clearly, hosting an F1 race is seen as a privilege albeit an expensive one.
Tepid response of Indian audience
So, what’s keeping India from doing the same? Sadly, the answer to that is not that simple. There in not just one guilty party. It comes as a surprise to many that the Indian Grand Prix has even managed to keep itself on the calendar for the entirety of its short-lived 3 year stint. This is one of the few races that receive no government subsidy and has had its promotional fees paid by private bodies. On top of this, the Uttar Pradesh state government wanted to levy taxes on the event on the grounds of it being entertainment and not a sport. Reports also claim there have been considerable hurdles in even bringing the equipment into India.
Another major issue to be addressed is the lukewarm reception by the Indian audience. While it is quite clear that India is no place for a niche sport, it is still surprising to see the complete lack of enthusiasm towards the sport. While not as easily accessible as a sport like Cricket, it is not unreasonable to expect that F1 might be met with more than just apathy seeing that a major chunk of our population is comprised of engineers. But this is clearly not the case.
The blame however cannot be shifted entirely on the people. F1 is a costly affair and getting a decent seat on the track means sacrificing a significant portion of a month’s salary for the most of us. This is not taking into consideration the potential costs involved in travel for those of us who are virtually travelling from the other end of the country. One might argue that setting up a circuit down south might have led to a relatively better outcome considering the presence of a motorsport culture (small, but existent) here. But that answer may never be answered for all we know.
Should the Indian Grand Prix try and find its way back into the calendar?
F1 would serve as a motor sport ambassador to our country. Who knows what kind of talent we have hiding in our country. F1 would do well to fuel the interests and serve as an inspiration for future racers. The event would also generate a substantial amount of revenue and could potentially employ around 10000 people. It would also provide a boost to hotels and tourism considering that most Non-European Grands Prix see more than half of their audience flying in from other nations. The event would also help put India on the automobile radar. Mahindra Racing will be the first Indian team to participate in the FIA Formula E Championship which is scheduled to host its inaugural season later this year. Holding an F1 race in India might motivate other Indian manufacturers to enter the racing segment as India has no lack of talent. It might just be a matter of years before we see an Indian “factory team” (Official team of the manufacturer) if F1 is back on track in India.
Will the sport ever return to India as a regular?
With new Grands prix fighting for a spot on the calendar, it will be a challenge to get back on it. But, that’s not to say it’s an impossible feat and if anyone can do it, it’s us.