India’s favourite motorsport is back. Well, not quite. But the recent announcement of the Season 9 Formula E (FE) calendar featuring Hyderabad has invigorated fans across the country. It shows that the Federation Internationale de L’ Automobile—FIA—is still interested in holding races in India. So why not manifest the dream we’ve been quietly waiting for? It’s time to bring Formula 1 back to India.
The Formula One World Championship (FOWC) and its associates have long been deterred by unfavourable entanglements with Indian lawmakers, dating back to 2011. Credit to the Telangana government, though, for moving like Valtteri Bottas at the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix to sign the letter of intent within a month. So much so that even FE’s Chief Championship Officer, Alberto Longo, was impressed.
It’s been almost a decade since our last Indian Grand Prix (GP). The Buddh International Circuit (BIC) was home to three thrilling championship deciders—in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It was a favourite with the drivers, the fans, and organisers. With an award-winning circuit, India was set to be a major site for future Grand Prix. The contract was to run for two more years, so what went wrong?
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Death of the Indian Grand Prix
Like all good things, the Indian Grand Prix was also killed by bureaucratic issues and heavy taxation. The organisers and FOWC were dragged through the mud for bringing a new sport to the country.
F1 race promotion agreements state that the fees should be free of all taxes. And at the beginning, then-Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati did so. The Jaypee group, which built the BIC and organised the GP, was exempt from paying a 25 per cent entertainment tax. But with the change of leadership in Uttar Pradesh, the new Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav retrospectively withdrew that exemption. The Ministry of Sports then categorically stated Formula 1 was not a sport but entertainment and an F1 Grand Prix “added nothing to the development of sport in the country”.
Apart from insisting that Jaypee pay the taxes, the authorities also stopped F1 from getting the money from a bank guarantee—another requirement for race contracts. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court in 2017 said that the BIC was a permanent establishment and Formula One was now required to pay taxes on any income they earned from India, which was estimated at 40 per cent. As a result, the FIA dropped the Indian Grand Prix and the circuit hosted car launches and was even briefly sealed. This bludgeoned the prospects and popularity of motorsport within the country.
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With the return of international-level motorsport, India needs to truly reconsider whether or not they want to take it seriously. There is a dearth of quality motorsport academies in India and the lack of engagement is hurting its future prospects. Just imagine a country that’s completely bereft of the thrill that whiny high-performance engines bring.
The past few years have seen the Indian fanbase grow, and a lot of this can be attributed to Netflix’s Drive to Survive (2019). Bringing the race home and watching the favourites compete right in our backyard would be nothing short of magnificent. Also, it’ll give a significant boost to talent within the country. Can you imagine the Neeraj Chopra-like furore it would cause if the likes of Jehan Daruvala were to win at home?
If that isn’t enough, F1 events globally are also known to draw in tourists (a reliable 6 per cent annually). A good example of this would be the Singapore Grand Prix, which generated $1.5 billion in incremental tourism receipts. Since the introduction of the circuit to the calendar in 2008, the country has seen 5,50,000 unique visitors. The economic highs of hosting a Grand Prix is something India has experienced before and it could’ve continued. In its first year alone, the Indian Grand Prix saw a surge in hotel bookings near the circuit and regular employment for the people living around it. D.S. Rawat, then secretary general of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, said that the first weekend had enough potential to generate Rs 850 crore in revenue and provide employment for over 10,000 people. That’s a win-win.
Millions of fans across the country, including myself, have been starved of Formula 1 GPs at home. We clearly have the infrastructure and the ability to conduct these races and do them well. So just bring it back already. It’s been long enough.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)