Formula E confident of smooth Indian debut
Co-founder of the electric car racing series, Alberto Longo, feels motorsport being recognised as a sport by the government will smoothen its entry and growth in the country
The New Year will see India hosting two major international motorsport events. MotoGP created a lot of buzz among Indian petrol heads when the world’s premier two-wheeler racing series announced that they will race in India in September 2023.
Before that Grand Prix, India will see another motorsport spectacle–Formula E. The world’s first and fastest electric car racing series will descend on India in February with racing around a 2.4km street circuit that will be set up around the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad.
The arrival of major motorsport events sounds promising but sceptics will remind enthusiasts about the hullabaloo that surrounded Formula 1 racing in Greater Noida around a decade ago. F1 had a short three-year stint in India from 2011-13 before the race ran into tax, bureaucratic and logistical hurdles, not even seeing out its five-year contract. Formula E believes it is on track to host a successful first Hyderabad ePrix on February 11.
“There are some challenges, I’m not going to deny, but it happens everywhere in the world the first time we do a race in a country. But we are on track. Things like logistics, visas… we bring an ecosystem of 4,000 people who are going to live in Hyderabad probably (creating) around a $150 million economic impact,” Formula E co-founder and Chief Championship Officer Alberto Longo said.
“We need to take care of them. They need to come and face no challenges with visas, transportation, etc. I am totally sure it’ll get sorted because we have fantastic local partners and mega support of the local government. India is not going to be an exception, I am sure. If we need any support from the government, I know we’ll have it.”
A major issue Formula 1 faced in India was that motorsports was not recognised as a sport then. This created tax issues as getting customs clearances for equipment became a problem. The situation has changed since the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI), the governing body for motorsports, was recognised as a National Sports Federation (NSF) in 2015.
“The objective and vision we’re trying to achieve is much larger and challenging. All these things have been easier to sort out. There were issues around a year back but as we head closer to the race, things are getting much more streamlined. We have to do a race to know probably,” Anil Kumar Chalamalasetty, CEO of promoters Greenko Group, joked.
“Provisions in customs were already put in place in 2015, making India a platform for global sports events. (For equipment clearance) we need to make an appeal, get an order which will align with a single window process while coming through customs.”
Demand for Indian market
Ever since the series started in 2014-15, Formula E has wanted to come to India, Longo explained. With an Indian team--Mahindra Racing–competing, it made sense. Besides, Formula E’s first season had former F1 racer Karun Chandhok drive for Mahindra.
“It probably took us way too long to get here. India was a tier-1 market for us from the beginning. We’ve been trying to race in India for a long time,” said Longo. “We also have a bit of Indian DNA. Mahindra is a founding partner of Formula E. We also have a half Indian team in Jaguar, which is owned by Tata, whose title partner is Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).”
With one of the world’s biggest four-wheeler markets and an expanding electric vehicle market, manufacturers who race in the series like Jaguar, Porsche, Maserati and Nissan are keen to come to India. “It is a massive market. We have seven manufacturers next year who are willing to go India, China, US. We have been racing in China and US for a long time now, India was pending.”
Though other Indian cities had also approached Formula E, things fell in place when Chalamalasetty discussed the idea in 2017-18 with Telangana IT, Municipal Administration and Urban Development minister KT Ramarao, who was keen to get the series to Hyderabad. The race could have come to India earlier but for the Covid-19 pandemic.
“To get Formula E to a city you need support of the government. Considering the history of F1 in India, Formula E too wanted to see government leading the process without which it would not have been possible,” said Chalamalasetty.
A four-year agreement has been signed to hold the race in Hyderabad with an option of hosting the race for four more years. Hyderabad will host the fourth round of the 17-race season, which will take place between January and July, 2023. Season 9 will also see the introduction of Gen 3 cars which will be faster, go above 300kmph, and more efficient than the first two generations with 11 teams and 22 drivers competing on street circuits around the world. Gen 1 cars (2014-17) had a maximum speed of 226 kph and Gen 2 (2018-2022) had a maximum speed of 282 kph.