The first words that the boss of the Buddh International Circuit, Sameer Gaur, uses to describe this year’s Formula One Indian GP is “it is like a great Indian wedding where the 18 drivers are like grooms and those accompanying them are part of the wedding procession that needs to be taken care of in every way”.
Hidden behind that statement is, perhaps, a feeling about the huge expense his company, JP Sports International (JPSI), has been making year after year. Gaur feels he and his company have done their bit and it is time for others, especially the government, the sponsors, and the Formula One Management, to chip in to make the venue profitable and successful. Excerpts from an interview:
What do you need to do to make this a bigger event?
We, as a private company, have already done our bit by setting up the track and hosting the race. But there are a couple of other things that need to be done to make it a bigger event, and for that, we need the participation of both the Central and the state governments. One of the issues is related to commuting. The Metro connectivity till Greater Noida is essential, so that a lot more people can come to F1.
Second thing is that this event needs to be sold as part of a larger tourism package. This time of the year is the festive season here (JP are actually resenting Indian GP’s shifting to earlier part of the year). The connectivity to Agra, a major tourist hub, has improved after the construction of Yamuna expressway. If the government can plan events around here and plan tour packages during this season, the attendance will definitely increase.
Has the government been supportive?
Having said all that, it is a bit premature to say that there is no support from the government. But ultimately, it is the FMSCI that should take this matter vigorously at the government level. It is the governing body for motorsports in India. Across the world, 95% of the circuits are owned by the government. They do everything, including promotion.
Here, we have incurred the cost of building the track, we are giving the licensing fees and doing the hosting as well. Besides, whatever promotions we can do we are doing and there is no end to it. People will always ask for more. Sponsors should pitch in too. If Airtel or Rolex are doing it, they should also be doing their bit in promotions. If broadcasters ESPN are part of it, they should also be doing their bit. It has to be a combined effort. We have done our bit, others should also do it.
The venue hosts one event, is that enough to make it profitable?
Every business has a gestation period. What we have to realise is that you cannot look at this venue for just a one-off Formula One event. Many more international events can be hosted. Motorbike racing and truck racing events can be brought here. But most importantly (to make it a profitable venture), we have to ensure the automobile industry exploits it. As of now, most of the cars are launched here.
But there are other ways that the manufacturers can use it. We have the space and buildings to have Research and Development facilities. Besides, we need to get practice and testing sessions to India. December and January is a good time.
What is stopping manufacturers from coming and using the venue as a testing facility or setting up R&D facilities?
Look, for the first couple of years, we were learning. Now, we are all aware that there is a downturn in the economy. Not many people are looking at India as a destination. But I think things will improve in the coming months. Ultimately, when things improve and if the government owns up the event, I think we can make the track successful.
You give Rs. 10 crore to the National Sports Development Fund. Do you resent it?
I would say that the money contributed to the National Sports Development Fund should also be used in the promotion of motorsport. If the ministry is taking a fund from somewhere, it should also be putting it back there. They need to work at the grassroots level as only the government has the reach, and not us. We don’t know where the fund is being used. The government needs to ensure that fresh talent comes in after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok. The emphasis should be on motorsports as there is such a big facility available.
There has been speculation about the future of Indian GP?
Such a huge investment has been done in the country and it has become a matter of prestige and commitment. There are no failures. It is being conducted successfully and the feedback is that it is a great track. I think F1 is here to stay. There is a gap of one year before it returns in 2015 and we have to take it in our stride.
Revenue sharing with Formula One Management is an issue with most tracks?
There is a contract and we signed it knowingly. But I wouldn’t say there are no complaints. To make it a successful circuit, we need to have the best licence fee (Indian GP is reportedly paying between 150-200 crore as licence fees). Yes, we have a contract but the fact is that the economy has also got affected.
Nobody expected such a change and nobody expected the dollar would fluctuate so much (JPSI makes payments in foreign exchange). All these factors should be considered. India is one of the best venues and it is not us but the people coming here who are saying this.