Can India afford to drive out Formula One Racing?

Can India afford to drive out Formula One Racing?
Can India afford to drive out Formula One Racing?
Formula One Racing
Formula One Racing

The 2014 Formula One racing season has started off well for the Force India team. The Team has been steadily improving in both the Constructor’s Points table, as well as, Driver’s Table. The fourth race of the 2014 season has just finished in China and the Force India-Mercedes team stands in 3rd position with 54 points, just behind Red Bull which is at 57.

That’s no mean achievement for a team that is a relatively new entrant to the circuit and the signs are that the team will continue to improve. Nico Hulkenberg is showing tremendous grit and control and along with his team mate, Sergio Perez, the team can only improve. On the Driver’s points table, Nico is currently at 4th position with 36 points and Sergio is at 10th position with 18 points. No mean achievement.

It’s ironical that while the interest in the sport has grown tremendously in India, with fans from Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns taking to the sport and the fact that India has a world class racing track, we have not been able to organize the race in India, this season. And there is little chance of the race being organized in 2015 either.

Bernie Ecclestone, the head of the F1 Racing, has expressed disappointment in India’s inability to hold the race this season and ruled out the 2015 season too. 2016 may happen but India needs to get its act together.

So what’s ailing India?

2013-14 has been a year we would like to forget. The economy has been sluggish, the government has been reticent in policy and decision making and very little seems to have moved. Same is true of sport. The Sports Ministry has been at loggerheads with the Indian Olympic Association and sports at the administrative level has suffered.

The scenario plays out in Formula One racing too. The promoters of the Buddh International Circuit (BIC), Jaypee Sports International Limited (JPSI), have invested heavily in giving India a world class facility. The BIC has been designed by the renowned race track designer, Hermann Tilke, who has also designed race tracks in the U.S, China, Malaysia, Bahrain, Turkey, South Korea and the UAE. BIC is part of the Jaypee Sports City and spread over 874 acres with an exciting race track of 5.14 kms.

The facility can well be a launch pad for several related sports activity that can be commercially successful and create further jobs in the area. But we now have a situation wherein the government has kept a hands off attitude and JPSI has been cash strapped to promote the event on its own. As a result we have a status quo and the race has moved out of India, denying jobs and business to the local industry and revenue to the government.

High Stakes

Formula One racing is a high investment activity for all stakeholders. The teams, the race management, the race facility owners and the sponsors, all have to fork out large sums to keep the race going and world over all nations still vie with each other to ensure their country remains on the Formula One calendar. JPSI has to pay race hosting fees of $40 million per year to the Formula Race Management (FOM). In addition, JPSI has been asked to pay Rs 10 crore per year to the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) to get permission to hold the race. Furthermore, JPSI has also been asked to foot the custom duty on behalf of FOM, as also, for the teams in the BIC Paddock.

The chairman of FMSCI, the newly formed Indian motorsport governing body, Akbar Ebrahim, has been wanting to take up the issue with the government but with the election process on, the discussions can take place only post elections. By the way, FMSCI is yet to be recognized by the Ministry! In the meantime 2014 season is lost to India.

Where’s the Government?

The question is why did the government let this happen? Is it not the responsibility of the Sports Ministry to take a macro view of developing sports in India and also ensuring that there is a pro-active framework in place to promote and support sport? When the controversy was at its peak and there was a serious threat that the 2014 race may give India the miss, why did the Sports Ministry not intervene pro-actively and work out a solution with JPSI?

India did not just lose the race, we also lost our reputation in the International sport arena, we lost the opportunity to earn foreign exchange, the tourism industry lost out, precious jobs of all stakeholders got affected and most of all the fans lost the opportunity to witness a once-in-a-year race that every country dreams about.

Its time the government stood up and took responsibility for doing what it should be doing and that is developing sports in India. The question is who will form the next government and who will take charge of the Sports Ministry? Meanwhile, the country can only sit back and watch on television, the Formula One race happening in another country.