The only track that seems to be making the news for the last few days is the Buddh International Circuit which holds the Indian Grand Prix. This circuit is a part of the Sports City, which also boasts of a Cricket Stadium, a golf course, a hockey stadium, and also a sports academy. This is an ambitious project penned by Jaypee Group. Controversies surrounded the project right from its initial stage, the news of the hour is that Indian Grand Prix is dropped for the 2014 season, in a bid to advance the event for an early slot in 2015. Although the organisers are very positive of hosting the grand prix in 2015, we need to wonder if the all the efforts that are undertaken hereafter are worth the effort. A lot more could have been done by the organisers at an early stage. Things could have been so different by now had the efforts were undertaken by the organisers, and also the teams who were positive about the track and India were a little more cautious about their approach to the Country. It has to be recollected that it was Bernie Ecclestone who was a lone warrior in trying to host an Grand Prix in India for a long time, but maybe he has realised the pain in looking beyond the eyes of the Government of the Country, perhaps not for the first time.
Government of India was never in favour of hosting the Formula 1 event in the country. Be it the centre or the state, the Government responsible wasn’t keen to hold an extravagant event like Formula 1. That’s the first hurdle that the event organisers were experiencing for quite a few decades, despite the enormous potential that the Country has in its kitty. However there were quite a few instances when certain Chief Ministers of the state were keen to stage the event, one of them being in Andhra Pradesh, and the other being in Maharashtra. Serious steps were taken during the Pre Narain Karthikeyan era, when the Government of Andhra Pradesh were going all out to stage an Formula 1 event in its capital city of Hyderabad. It was around March 2003, when then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu announced the plans of holding the extravagant event. Naidu led a team of few delegates to Italy that year to ensure Formula 1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone who was also keen to stage a race in India is pleased with the efforts made by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. Incidentally, one of those delegates who went to Italy along with Naidu was Suresh Kalmadi, then President of Indian Olympic Association, his successors however termed F1 as an entertainment rather than a sport. The action plan of Naidu was simple, try and persuade Bernie Ecclestone in a scheduled meeting of 10 minutes, the outcome of the meeting was extremely positive, the meeting even went beyond the stipulated time of 10 mins, Bernie had agreed for a lock-in period of 8 months, which wouldn’t have happened unless Bernie was satisfied with the proposal, and it was agreed that Bernie or any other party associated with Formula 1 wouldn’t contact other states or other proposals in India during this period. Meanwhile in Andhra Pradesh, the project received new dimensions after this meeting, as Naidu was also said to be in touch with Hermann Tilke who had promised that the circuit would be similar to the likes of Monza. There were proposals to construct a new International airport in Hyderabad to handle the tourists, the teams and the equipments, the entire project cost was also increased to INR 600 Crores, and more than one lakh jobs were promised. But unfortunately, the fairy tale had to stop there, due to the elections at both state and the centre. The ruling party at the state lost the elections, and the incoming Chief Minister’s first step was to re-consider all the projects started by his predecessor. This is the Indian Politics at its best, and this step is often common in other states, and sometimes even at the central Government as well. The new Government then announced its plans, to completely scrap the proposal to stage an Formula 1 event, because it was just an annual racing expedition, and any investment of INR 10,000 crore or more wasn’t feasible, as the event is held annually, and that they have some other serious issues to monitor. The project if went ahead was said to be a reality in 2006, as Bernie was keen to stage an Indian Grand Prix at this time frame. Meanwhile, the states of Maharashtra, and Karnataka which also emerged as a contender for the proposed slot back tracked on the issue due to their own reasons. The Government of Maharashtra announced the lack of funds to facilitate the project, and claimed that they would support any private player who would make the project a reality. It has to be reported that Maharashtra has shown interest in staging an Formula 1 race various times later, and the latest being in 2013, however, the proposals never saw the light. The proposals from Maharashtra which were brought by various organisations had its own loopholes, one notable mention is of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) who were keen to stage an event from 2010, had few ridiculous deadlines which included in their 2010 tenders, that the bidders of the project were to complete the track and infrastructure in 6 months from the date of awarding the contract. At this date, MSRDC is said to have identified the land for the project, and will be issuing global tenders shortly, however the slow progress would hurt its chances, the project is estimated to be around INR 1500 crores, and would escalate further if delayed.
It’s embarrassing when they try so hard to stage an event in the country, when the problems actually lie at the grassroot levels. In many forums, fans would throng to comment on the similar lines like they don’t need a Formula 1 project at INR 1500 crores, all they hope for is a better infrastructure for Motorsports.
In some ways, it does sound logical, when you don’t have a infrastructure at the grassroot level, all you try to build up is an entertainment park. India needs a culture similar to Europe. One of my friends was recently speaking on the developments surrounding the Buddh International Circuit, and stated that the Government was not doing enough, and by demanding more taxes, they are alienating the sport from the masses. This isn’t true, you don’t educate the masses, by building Formula 1 tracks across the country, you educate the masses, by building more infrastructure for the sport, Go-Karts and Tier III Tracks for the national races are an ideal way of educating the masses. If the Government is demanding more taxes from the teams, it only means they don’t care for the sport which is watched by a minority in the country. This is a country crazy about cricket, and even the national game Hockey is being sidelined. Again, the question arises about the importance of Cricket that most people tend to give in this Country, the answer for this is simple, we can’t force someone to stop watching the sport. Cricket is successful here because of the success we had in it, In the recent past, India has the won the World Cup, Champions Trophy, and other important bilateral series, despite being in a bad patch for a prolonged period. India hosts the Indian Premier League which is watched by millions, and this has led to several countries hosting their own version of the same concept. Indians have Cricket stadiums in most of their major cities, and films, sports stars, and other celebrities promote the sport in a big and efficient way. One can still take up their career in Cricket in an affordable way, because the infrastructure is accessible, and Indians have the culture for the same. Motorsports in India is called the sport of the riches, which is true to other Countries in the Globe as well, but again, many Countries across the globe have the culture and infrastructure, while in India, motorsports is something that is just picking up.
Do Indians give the prime importance to Cricket, and only Cricket?
The answer is partly yes, there is always a significant momentum when it comes to other sports including Boxing, Wrestling, Shooting, and Archery, apart from the national game Hockey. Yet again, India doesn’t have the infrastructure similar to that of Cricket, but these sports are very well followed, especially in olympics, where these are considered as a bankable sport for winning the medals. The notable absence in that list is Swimming, and other water sports. When several Countries across the Globe spends so much for water sports, India which is surrounded by Water on its three sides, gives a least importance for the sport. This is where Indians struggle.
Ever since India was ruled by the British, Indians lost the ability to think beyond. Most Indians are selfish, Indians live for the society, and not for themselves which is huge pain for most people who are middle class. It’s the upper class that had the most freedom to think beyond, and do what they love. This is the reason why Engineering Courses were the most sought in the Country until recently, it doesn’t matter if the student has the spark in them to pursue the course, parents thought that those Children who pursue Engineering stream had the licence for their future. Thankfully, the situation is slowly changing, other streams of Education are picking up. It was reported that more than 80,000 Engineering seats in Tamil Nadu, which is one of the pioneers of Education system in India are vacant this year. The numbers speak for themselves, but it doesn’t mean the entire thought process is changed. It’s still considered a sin by many to pursue sports as a career in India. Because by pursuing sports, Children would lose their study time, which will eventually affect their future is the thought of many parents, and if someone picks other than Cricket, parents would be wondering if their kid has a problem with their thought process. Not many realised that the kid who picks a sport other than Cricket has a higher probability of representing their Nation. If at all the kid who picks a sport other than Cricket, manages to convince their parents, it would be tough to find the support for their career. They ultimately yield to the pressure of their parents, and go back to their rigorous education system. Ultimately, it’s the environment that Indians hail from their birth, the society would be looking at a person who picks a off stream course as a convict rather than appreciating his decision. I was told that surfing has picked up in several coastal cities of the Country, before you jump up, it’s only because of the tremendous potential that it offers to the tourists than as a career or a recreational activity for Indians. Yet despite all these, other sports are picking up, including Soccer. All these might be off-topic, but the point is, any sport in India would pick up, only when there is a mass marketing of the product. Indians have a hidden passion for sports, which are brought up only when there is a right environment.
If only, Indians had a free thought process for generations, Indians wouldn’t have been in a crunch situations like these, lots of other sports would have picked up, and Indians could have dominated the olympics or at least given a tough competition to many.
But again, is it the right way to educate the masses?
The ones who were thrilled of witnessing the race, wouldn’t had the eligibility to drive a Go-Kart, either they will be ridiculously priced or would have been a scarcity to drive. Many people would agree that the Go-Kart would be an ideal way to groom people for a career in Motorsports. If at all, the interested participant succeeds in the event, the next step is a steep climb in terms of finances. However we do agree that the situation now is different instead of the yesteryears, where one has to go abroad to pursue their career. But this would never be an excuse for the steep rates.
Again, coming back to the point, when there is only an Formula 1 track in the Country, instead of these infrastructure, It would be considered as an entertainment park, just like any multiplex. We do watch films, but 70% of us wouldn’t be interested in pursuing our career in that Industry.
It’s not right by the organisers or even from the teams, to leave India in their promotional tour. Everyone of us know that India is in nascent stages of Formula 1, and it could have been better if there were more roadshows, and racing shows like the one in Moscow. There could have been displays of the Formula 1 cars at various malls or other appropriate places, among other promotional content. If it wasn’t for Vodafone, We wouldn’t have seen Lewis Hamilton driving down the streets of Bangalore or racing on a Mercedes AMG at the Sriperumbudur track at Chennai, and fortunately we had a Red Bull doing a roadshow in New Delhi and Mumbai ahead of the first Formula 1 race. Lotus in Partnership with Renault India showcased their 2011 challenger in few malls across India.
This has been the whole built up to the Formula 1 Experience in India, clearly this isn’t enough to generate the buzz. Maybe we are yearning for more, but there is nothing wrong in carving for more, when the returns of more promotional stunts are maximum.
Implications of lack of an Grand Prix in India on Formula 1:
Who ever were following Formula 1 around the 2005 season from India, when Narain Karthikeyan made his debut would have certainly hoped for an Indian Team to strengthen the growing phenomenon. It was a common perception that the Indian team would come to the aid of the Indian drivers. When Mallya purchased the struggling Spyker, there was an amazing expectations that either Karun Chandhok or Narain Karthikeyan would be one of the drivers for Force India, but it wasn’t the case, and by now, there must be close to 100 odd debates on the topic.
Force India debuted with lots of glitter and buzz among the corporates, Some big names from the Indian Business entered Formula 1. ICICI Bank, Reliance Industries were one of the key promoters of Force India, and they continued to be with the team for more than two seasons before making an exit. This first two years of Force India was spectacular because of the amazing patriotism that were shown by the Indian media, and the Business tycoons on this team more than at this point of time. It did feel that the Indian Tri Colour livery adapted by Force India would have made more sense in 2008. Things startled there after, not many came forward to sponsor this team, maybe as Karun says it often, the big conglomerates were confused of supporting the Indian drivers or the Indian team, as a result the sponsors never came onboard. Those who supported, failed to utilise the team nor the phenomenon. One of the key sponsors during this period, who has made their exit from the sport now, has stated that Formula 1 was a dead weight to their promotions. We are not sure if this was something to do with their marketing team, For sure, Indians have never witnessed a major ads related to Formula 1 until recently, and that too of Kimi Raikkonen with his dandruff free ads. We are pretty sure that the marketing team of the respective sponsors could have done more, after all, this combination of a Indian sponsor and Formula 1 is a rarity. At the time, when ING was deeply associated with Renault, they used the phenomenon to launch a scheme named, “ING Formula Savings Account”, this scheme had some interesting features, that included:
One of the other sponsors of Force India were Reebok, who launched some merchandises of the home team, but again, it was priced so high, and apart from the die hard fans, it couldn’t find the traction among the masses. It would have raised curiosity if the merchandises of the home team were priced for the middle class Indians, people would have noticed it a lot more. But one funny thing of these merchandises from Reebok was that the Indian spoofs of the original, which arrives for many products sold here, wasn’t available or wasn’t even manufactured. That would explain the popularity of Formula 1 and the Merchandise sales in Indian market.
As of now, the big sponsors of the Formula 1 teams from India are the UB Group for Force India, and few other handful of corporations who anyway are the supporters of the Indian drivers right from their domestic circuit. We can’t point out a single brand who has come forward to support the team after this phenomenon entered India, although a couple of sponsors came onboard for the Indian Grand Prix during the last season, that includes Boost Energy Drink (who had a cool offer for the contest, with the prize being a trip around the McLaren factory), Amul (Sponsored Sauber), and Base Batteries (who also managed to do some promotions using the HRT).
It would be really hard for these sponsors who were there for a limited period or one race to go all out aggressively for one full season or more. Either the companies see Formula 1 as a dead weight or the marketing team doesn’t have a clue about Formula 1 as a result of which the companies belonging to the ‘Potential Superpower of 2025’ doesn’t have a major presence in Formula 1.
However, things could have been different if there was an Indian driver in the Indian Team or if the Indian team was a bit lenient to the Indian sponsors other than favoring their own brands. We really need to wonder if the tons of dollars that TATA has used to support Narain in his career, could have been efficiently used to purchase a team, and make better promotion of his talent and their brand. With the absence of Indian Grand Prix in 2014 would save tons of money from the one race sponsors, and other than that, we don’t see a problem for the Indian Companies, because of the lack of promotions either way.
Now comes the important part of the common public, by this time, it’s a well known fact that visiting the Indian Grand Prix from the South India is far expensive than visiting the nearby Countries like Singapore and Malaysia. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true, this defeats the purpose of the Indian Grand Prix. The whole location of the track is a controversial one, (apart from the fact that it was grabbed by the Uttar Pradesh Government, who took the land from farmers for the building of Roads and Industries, and then sold it to the promoters of Buddh International Circuit for a price higher than normal, which led to violent protests from the farmers) the location is good for Delhiites, but it would have been even more wonderful if the track was located at the financial capital of the Country, Mumbai. One of the reasons, why the Maharashtra Government is focused on making their Formula 1 project a reality is because of the sure shot success, that project possess as compared to their counterparts in Delhi. My friends do spend a fortune for visiting the track, mostly from their savings of the entire financial year, although the experience of watching the race from the grandstands is unmatchable. I feel happy for them, because they will be saving their hard earned money, and using it to watch the race, despite the protests from their parents.
This can be taken with a pinch of salt, but the economic crisis in India doesn’t seem to be feasible enough for a grand prix to happen in India. The ticket prices are sky high, but it’s worth the effect, which is a different story. If this wasn’t meant to be the last grand prix, the takers for the 2013 Indian Grand Prix would have been on the similar lines to that of the 2012 season, which again puts the promoters of the circuit in jeopardy, as with poor turnout, their ability to break even will be further tough, and Bernie wouldn’t be pleased with the resultant turnout. The return to 2015 slot, is a blessing in disguise, the whole saga in the last few days has spiked the momentum for this year’s event. Lots of people who has never been to the race are curious to the whole process. With this increased momentum, it would be a fitting sign for corporates to use the opportunity to associate their brands with Formula 1. However, like previously mentioned, the economic conditions in India are at their worst scenario, things could be changed by the next year’s general elections, regardless of who forms the Government. The economy for sure would improve, politicians who were afraid of supporting the event, due to the fear of backlash from the opposition would eventually support the grand prix in its comeback in 2015. People would have gained a far more knowledge of Formula 1, and with improved economy, there will be improved turnout, which eventually would send a positive sign to Bernie & Co. to take India more seriously. This is also the right time for Automobile manufacturers, despite their slowdown in India and abroad to launch special incentives ahead of the Indian Grand Prix. The Formula 1 teams should also treat India with some respect, Indians deserve the roadshows, and other promotional event that they are operating around the World.
Indians are not a in third World, afterall, India is going to be a superpower pretty soon! How can the F1 Universe give it a miss for prolong period?