As Formula One returns to the Buddh International Circuit for a third time, Vicky Chandhok, the President of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, fears that this weekend’s race may well be the last to be held in India, with a comeback in 2015 still uncertain.
The Indian Grand Prix is set to take a hiatus in 2014, but while it is forecast to return in 2015, there has been no official confirmation that the New Dehli circuit will make a comeback in two year’s time.
The 2014 event was noticeably missing from the provisional calendar released in July, with reports that the races organisers, Jaypee, believed that they would not be able to concede to Bernie Ecclestone’s request for the race to be scheduled for March next year, a turnaround of just five months from this weekend’s Grand Prix.
“If it doesn’t come back in 2015, it may never come back at all,” Chandhok told The Guardian. “That is my concern.
“Once you lose a race it can be gone for ever. That is why I am calling on everyone in India to make this Sunday’s race an event to remember, so everyone in Formula One will realise that it needs the Indian Grand Prix.
“If we lose it, I would be very disappointed, because it took us 10 years to get the race in the first place. It was in 1999 that Bernie Ecclestone [the sport's commercial rights holder] first had talks with organisers and sponsors in India.”
Chandhok, father of former HRT and Lotus driver Karun Chandhok, insisted that while the future of the Indian Grand Prix remains clouded, the economic benefit that the event has had on the local area and India as a whole had been substantial, while he has willed the Indian government to do all they can to support the return of the race in 2015.
“Basically there were two reasons. First, Bernie [Ecclestone] wanted to switch the race to March but there was no way we could stage two races in five months. Second, everything has become a lot more expensive.
“This race has been good for the economy for the past two years. Hotels and taxi drivers have been busy and so have other workers. The taxpayers have not been paying for it. It has been a private promoter.
“India is now recognised worldwide as making great technological advances. So F1 makes sense. It is more than just a sporting occasion. It is an event capable of encouraging people all over the world. It is good for India and good for its government.”
Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn, who was born in India, agrees that it will not be easy for the Indian Grand Prix to return to the calendar, and has admitted that the sport is partly to blame for the situation the event now finds itself in, as Formula One has failed to capitalise on the interest that was generated in the sport when it debuted in the country in 2011.
“I think it is very difficult once when you leave a country to come back to it – especially where we have not really managed to establish the sport,” explained Kaltenborn.”In the first year we had the benefit of something new coming in there, and a lot was done around the race.
“There was a tremendous amount of in-depth coverage, not just about telling the people the sport was about 11 teams, and all the celebrities and parties and the show.
“It was about explaining what are the teams about, why are the tyres important, what are the strengths/weaknesses of the people? It was very comprehensive coverage – even before the race.
“That was already less in the second year, and the critics came up more about the race. Was it really a sporting event? Then people put up issues, like the tax and the difficulties many people had. That was put further ahead in the second year.
“I think now it is a bit like giving up. When you know you are not planning to be there the next year, maybe the interest has gone down through that.”
“That has been the problem – that we have not been able to market ourselves properly in there,” she said.
“We have not been able to convince that many Indian companies. You can count the Indian companies that are in F1 since then on one hand. We’ve somewhere collectively failed to do more there.”
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons