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Lights go on in Singapore, dim in India

india Updated: Sep 27, 2008 00:55 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
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Formula One main man Bernie Ecclestone’s plans to push the Indian GP back by a year appear to stem from a delay in the beginning of the construction process of the proposed track in Greater Noida.

On Friday, Ecclestone told AFP on the sidelines of the Singapore GP that the scheduled race may well be moved from 2010 to 2011. “It’s all going on as usual, but these things take time. Probably 2011 is what I want,” he said.

The latest development comes in the wake of architect Herman Tilke’s assessment of the current ground situation. Tilke was in India early this month and is in close touch with the promoters Jaypee Group on a regular basis. “Tilke has been looking at the time frame and has taken a realistic call. We believe that the track will be ready by 2010 but it is better to have a firm place on the schedule for 2011 than a tentative one a year before,” Vicky Chandhok, former president of Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India and Ecclestone’s trusted pointsperson for the Indian F1 project, told Hindustan Times from Singapore.

It has been reliably learnt that construction was scheduled to begin in October and a Bhumi Pujan ceremony was slated for the first week of the month. “Construction may begin three to four months later than planned. But there is still an outside chance, if the facility is ready, that the race may come in by 2010. But getting the entire facility ready and certified is the key,” Chandhok added.

The potential delay in the track will have a ripple effect that will push back a number of projects. “So many other things like MotoGP, A1 and F3 are in line only in anticipation of a world-class track. All of these will also be delayed,” says Sanjay Sharma, principal organiser of the national racing championships.

There is speculation that the entire acreage of land required for the track may not have been consolidated just yet. At least 300 acres would be required to set up the track and its ancillary facilities alone.

Sharma, however, does not believe that land is a problem. A more pertinent aspect may be the inability of a business model being firmed up. The government is not financially supporting the F1 project in India. With just the rights fee for the Indian GP in the vicinity of $30 million, this is a mage-bucks business. Circuits across the world lose money, but the economy as a whole gains. With the Indian project being managed by a private operator, the priority would be to make its own books balance. The economic benefit to the region and image enhancement of the country would obviously be secondary considerations.

Jaypee’s agreement is for a race for seven years. A letter of credit with the rights fees for three years has reportedly already been commissioned.