Serious doubts over future of Indian GP

Greater Noida, Oct 24 (IANS) The word from the Formula 1 paddock is out. Many in the carnival don't see the sport returning to India in the near future unless the "bureaucratic and logistical" hassles are removed.

The extreme reactions from the teams, drivers and other officials came Thursday, on a day when petitioner Amit Kumar moved a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking to put Sunday's race at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) on hold owing to pending entertainment tax dues.

The event in its third year has been taken off the calendar in 2014, fuelling speculation about its future.

"The people are nice, the circuit is praised by all but it is really tough to get to India. The paper work (for visa, customs etc) is a lot more than in any other country. It is too much of a hassle for teams," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told IANS in the BIC paddock.

Most seem to agree that being in India is not a problem, reaching the country is. The time taken to obtain the Indian visa and paper work required for transporting the expensive equipment to the sub-continent has become a pain for teams.

"It is a shame what is happening at the moment. The negatives seem to overpower the positives. Most teams don't risk getting updates out of fear that they will not be cleared by the customs," said Indian driver Karun Chandhok, who travels to F1 venues as a commentator and has driven for the now defunct HRT.

Then getting a visa has not proved to be a smooth task for the visitors

"I applied for my visa July 28, it was issued on Sep 13 and I finally got it Oct 15. What was the Indian high commission doing for a month," said GP Week editor Kate Walker, who missed the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in 2011 for not getting visa.

Jaypee Group did a commendable job by building a $400 million circuit and getting the race to India, but are finding it tough to run the sport without government support. A lot of problems could be solved if the local government treats F1 as a sport and not entertainment.

"It is a tragedy (no race in 2014). So much money has been money put into this fantastic facility. May be the Jaypee Group will use it for something else. Usually, when the race goes off the calendar, it doesn't come back quickly," said former F1 driver Martin Brundle, who is now a well-known commentator.

What makes the job tougher for India is that many countries are eager to host a F1 race. The provisional 2014 calendar has 22 races with the introduction of New Jersey and Russia, and return of Mexico and Austria.

"There were issues in China and they were sorted out quickly. Hopefully, they can make it work here too. Both India and China are important markets for F1," said Brundle referring to the Chinese Grand Prix which has been a regular feature on the F1 calendar since 2004.

The promoters Jaypee Group, which is feeling the heat of economic slowdown, pays $40 million as licensing fee to Formula One Management (FOM) every year. The five-year deal was signed when the dollar-ruppe exchange rate was around 40 rupees, now it is Rs.60- plus.

"We are committed to the five-year contract with the FOM. We will see what happens after that," Jaypee Sports International CEO Sameer Gaur said earlier in the month.

His words are likely to give some hope to the F1 aficionados in India.

Next Race
Shanghai, China
April 20, 2014
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