x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

India bullish on Formula One return

People will take a little bit of time to warm up to sport, says Jaypee Sports International spokesperson.

The attendance at the Indian Grand Prix has reportedly dropped after the inaugural year. Roberto Schmidt / AFP
The attendance at the Indian Grand Prix has reportedly dropped after the inaugural year. Roberto Schmidt / AFP

GREATER NOIDA, India // Indian Grand Prix organisers were bullish about the troubled race’s future on Monday despite a drop in the estimated crowd figures and its disappearance from the schedule next year.

Organisers did not reveal how many people came to watch Sebastian Vettel’s coronation as world champion for the fourth time, but estimates varied from 50,000 to 60,000.

While not confirmed, the figures for Sunday are lower than the 95,000 who attended the inaugural race day in 2011 and the 65,000 who watched it last year.

Officials had been hoping for a strong turn-out to help ensure the Indian race returns, as promised, on the 2015 calendar after surprisingly being dropped for 2014.

However, promoters Jaypee Sports International (JPSI) said the crowd figures were similar to attendances at other grands prix around the world.

“We were always confident of good crowd numbers,” a JPSI media officer told Agence France-Presse. “Formula One is new to the country and it will take time for fans to warm up to it.”

“We are close to the average attendances worldwide on race days, except perhaps in Silverstone which attracts a bigger crowd,” he added. “We will definitely host the race again in 2015.”

The Indian GP has been hit by a troubled economy and sliding rupee, government apathy, a lop-sided financial arrangement and the lack of a home-grown driver to create local buzz.

Sunday’s race even came under threat from a court petition seeking its cancellation over alleged unpaid entertainment taxes, but the hearing was postponed.

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One supremo, did not attend this weekend, despite Vettel entering the race as a near-certainty to seal a fourth straight world title.

Ecclestone has said India will be back in 2015, but many fear the worst as Formula One juggles increasing congestion with new races planned in America, Mexico and Russia.

Organisers say India is missing out next year because it is being shifted to a new date earlier in the season, making it impractical to hold two races within a matter of months.

But Ecclestone has also been quoted as saying “political” matters caused India’s omission, which comes just three races in to a contract spanning five grands prix.

India’s government has refused to recognise Formula One as a sport, meaning the organisers need to pay tax and duties on everything connected with the race.

The promoters also pay US$40-45 million (Dh147-165m) to Formula One every year in licensing fees and about $1.6m to the government for permission to hold the race.

With all advertising and merchandising revenue also going to F1, the only source of income for the promoters is the sale of tickets, priced this year at $25 to $195.

Real estate giant Jaypee Group built the $400m Buddh International Circuit, about an hour’s drive from New Delhi, as the centrepiece of a major new property development.

Critics say one problem is that Formula One has failed to catch the public imagination in India, where cricket remains far and away the most popular sport.

“I think it is very difficult to come back to a country when you have left it,” Monisha Kaltenborn, the India-born Sauber boss, warned last week, according to Autosport.com.

“We have not been able to market ourselves properly in India. When you know you are not planning to be there the next year, maybe the interest has gone down.”