Even as 24 Formula 1 (F1) drivers rev up their cars and take respective positions at the $400 million (about R1,700 crore) Buddh International Circuit (5.14 km) on Sunday for the blockbuster race, it will be a Ferrari-red letter day for Indian motorsports. Many would unabashedly croon once again: 'We have arrived'. India now has the honour of hosting a F1 Grand Prix, something not many countries can boast of. Some of the world's top F1 drivers - Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button - will display their talents and skills in navigating the hairpin bends and the brand new track that the hosts are so justifiably proud of. India's very own Force India will challenge the other top teams: Renault, McLaren-Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, and their glamorous drivers. With the western economies dropping into a lower gear, India has become an important pit stop for the future of F1 as a sport, and the Bernie Ecclestone-led Formula One Management is aggressively looking for new spectators and sponsors in emerging economies. The F1 supremo is also in India and has made the right noises about the newest circuit.
Notwithstanding its immense worldwide popularity and the brisk ticket sales in India, the debate whether F1 is a sport continues to pop up once in a while. On Thursday, sports minister Ajay Maken added another chapter to it when he overruled what his predecessor had said in 2009. Mr Maken said that F1 is very much a sport and that it is clearly mentioned in the new sports Bill. In fact, a quick check of the Bill shows that along with Atya Patya at number 4 and Mallakhamb at number 33, Motorsports is actually just below Mind Sports in this alphabetically-organised list. Of course, the love is mutual. The money that the race will bring into the government's kitty is a cool R100 crores over the next 10 years. That, we have been told, will be used to develop other sports. And whether you like it or not, money (or at least, the promise of it) can buy love. Add to the R1,700 crore that the Indian F1 organisers have spent, it now smells like love that will continue for some time.
F1 with its pit babes is as much a sport or entertainment, as, say, cricket today is with T20 and the cheerleaders. The money spent on it and physical endurance that it demands are qualities that make F1 a sport. But unlike in cricket, the high ticket prices for an F1 race automatically cuts off a huge segment of the population. Maybe to keep everyone happy, we should have a new category called designer sports!