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Future of F1 Indian GP in doubt ahead of layoff

October 24, 2013

GREATER NOIDA, India (AP) — Set among fields and new building developments on the outskirts of the heaving Indian metropolis of New Delhi, the manicured green lawns and imposing infrastructure of Buddh International Circuit is an imposing sight.

Since 2011, the $400-million, Hermann Tilke-designed Formula One track has been a symbol for India’s emergence as a world economy and a presence in international sport.

After scheduling difficulties forced organizers and F1 to call off the 2014 race, many are concerned Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix could be the last.

Vicky Chandhok, president of the Motor Sports Clubs of India, said if the race is to have any future in India, it must return strongly in 2015.

“It may not be easy to get the race back in India if we don’t find it on the calendar in 2015,” Chandhok told The Associated Press on Thursday. “But we are hoping that will not happen.”

India, with a population of 1.2 billion and a booming economy, has becoming an increasingly attractive market for F1, and the emergence of the Force India team in 2007 did much to fuel interest in the country. However, many complain interest in the Indian GP has waned since the first race in 2011 and question whether the original excitement can be reignited after a year off.

Bringing the race back is made more difficult by the backing, or lack thereof, the race attracts from the government and Indian corporations to ensure it stays on the F1 calendar.

“Today we have a private company backing the event but the government, which has various sports infrastructure, has done nothing for F1,” Chandhok said. “The fact is that 17 out of 19 F1 events are government-funded because they see value in spending money with local promoters.”

High taxes are levied on F1 in India including on the one-19th share of all revenue it gets for being one of 19 races on the tour.

An ongoing $4 million break in government entertainment tax is also set to be withdrawn this year.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and team owners have been uncomfortable with the extra costs associated with the race.

“In the longer term, the corporate sector and the government has to invest in it, give it tax breaks,” Chandhok said. “There are long-term and short-term benefits to tourism and the real estate sector because of the event.”

Sameer Gaur, managing director of race promoter Jaypee Sports Group, is adamant F1 will return to India in 2015.

“The Indian GP will return in 2015,” Gaur said last week. “There should be no fears and I feel that no one should think that the Indian GP will not return.”

Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn is not so sure.

“I think it’s very difficult once when you leave a country to come back to it - especially where we have not really managed to establish the sport,” India-born Kaltenborn was quoted as saying on the autosport.com website. “We have not been able to convince that many Indian companies (to become associated with F1).”

Local support also appears to be dropping with ticket sales down from 97,000 in 2011 to 65,000 in 2012 and currently sitting in the region of 30,000 three days ahead of the race, but Indian racing officials are not worried about the number of spectators.

“F1 is a television driven sport, and while it’s always nice to have spectators, the number of people watching the race is not critical,” Chandhok said. “I’m not worried about the crowd, although it will be disappointing not to have 50,000 or 60,000 people at the venue.”

As for developing an F1 culture in India, Force India driver Adrian Sutil feels it is vital to hold the race here regularly.

“We have a long history of car-racing in Europe,” he said ahead of the Indian Grand Prix. “It’s just starting here, may be 10 years on it will have a big impact. It would be sad if it didn’t come back because it’s all about coming here every year, consistently.”

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