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HindustanTimes Mon,15 Sep 2014

Other Sport

Formula One: India fights to keep under-threat GP
AFP
Greater Noida, October 24, 2013
First Published: 18:09 IST(24/10/2013)
Last Updated: 18:35 IST(24/10/2013)

Indian Grand Prix organisers say they're determined to keep their Formula One status as fears mount that this weekend's race could be the last to be hosted in the country.


With India missing from the 2014 schedule due to what promoters call "logistical" reasons, it remains uncertain whether the race will return to the $450 million Buddh International Circuit on the outskirts of New Delhi.

In a further blow, India's Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a petition seeking the cancellation of Sunday's race because organisers have allegedly not paid entertainment taxes for the 2012 event.

The petition, to be heard on Friday, relates to a court order two years ago asking the organisers to freeze 25% of ticket revenues until they had settled a tax dispute with the state government of Uttar Pradesh where the track is located.

That ruling came in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed by campaigner Amit Kumar, who is also behind Thursday's petition seeking the cancellation of the race.

Kumar successfully argued in 2011 that F1 was entertainment and not sport, and should not benefit from tax exemptions granted by the state of Uttar Pradesh which borders the capital New Delhi.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said that India, gearing up to host its third race, will be back in early 2015 as he rejigs a packed calendar.

Vicky Chandhok, who heads the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, is hoping a successful race on Sunday -- when Sebastian Vettel is likely to seal the world title -- will help ensure Formula One returns.

"With venues in other countries also fighting for slots, we can't afford to miss out in 2015," Chandhok, father of racing driver Karun, told AFP.

"But I am optimistic that the promoters will work out an agreement with Formula One to have two more races. We have a great facility here."

Ecclestone was quoted as saying in July that "political" matters caused India to miss out in 2014, but the event's promoters were confident they will see out their five-race contract.

"If the Indian GP is not being held in 2014 it is entirely for logistical reasons," said Sameer Gaur, CEO of privately owned Jaypee Sports International Limited (JPSI).

"They wanted us to hold the race in March, but it was not practical to host one now and another in six months. But there should be no doubt that we will be back in 2015."

The Indian GP has been hit by a troubled economy and sliding rupee, government apathy towards the sport, a lop-sided financial arrangement and the lack of a local driver.

The promoters pay about $40-45 million to Formula One every year as a licensing fee and about $1.6 million to the Indian 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, which has dropped markedly.

The inaugural race in 2011 drew some 95,000 spectators to the 100,000-capacity circuit, but the numbers fell to around 65,000 last year. Ticket sales could see a further drop this year.

The government's refusal to recognise Formula One as a sport means the organisers need to pay tax and duties on everything connected with the race.

With the odds stacked against the race's private backers, who built the circuit from scratch as part of a major property development, observers are pessimistic.

"If we get another race, it will be by default, not by design," motorsports writer Harish Samtani told AFP. "But I am not optimistic. F1 is not meant for this country.

"F1 is not sustainable here. Our people don't understand what is essentially a niche sport. Besides, high costs are involved and money is at a premium everywhere in the world, more so in India."

Sauber's India-born boss Monisha Kaltenborn also said it will not be easy for the country to return to the Formula One circuit after a hiatus next year.

"I think it is very difficult to come back to a country when you have left it," Kaltenborn was quoted as saying by 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."


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