Behind the headline grabbing news of a possible 2016 return of F1 to India there is a push to secure the event’s future.
To say that India making its debut as a venue in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship was a big deal is something of an understatement. In a year where Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing’s dominance had become something of a turn off for many casual television viewers, the 2011 Indian Grand Prix was the most viewed race of the year in India, garnering around six times as many viewers as the next most viewed race in the year. Not to mention a near capacity crowd of 95,000 went to the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) near Greater Noida. That number dropped to well under 50,000 by 2013.
The low attendance has been cited as a reason for the race losing its spot on the 2014 F1 calendar but if attendance alone was the criteria to host an F1 round, then there would be no Chinese round either.
An imminent return?
After a quiet year the BIC has been in the news again thanks to news reports that stated that a deal was close for motorsport’s premier championship to return to India in 2016.
Speaking to marketing personnel at the BIC as well as the head of Jaypee Sports International (JPSI) Sameer Gaur the aim of the parent company – Jaypee Group – revealed that the goal is to bring F1 back in either 2016 or 2017 and at least see out the remaining two years of their five year contract with Formula One Management (FOM). A big challenge to the long term hosting of the event, however is the massive race hosting fee - believed to be around Rs.189 crore - and an entertainment tax being levied to the sale of tickets.
“Taking another look at the commercial agreement will have to be done after we complete this current contract,” Gaur told autoX. “But our biggest concern remains the government not giving motorsport recognition. With that recognition we could have the entertainment tax on the tickets removed in order to help sales as well.”
While the taxation issue only touches upon the many other problems that cropped up (including a customs related issue that was resolved too late) Gaur admitted that JPSI themselves could do better when it came to marketing the event. Even though F1 has a pretty solid head start in being a widely followed fixture in India’s televised sports market and a not too shabby online following. Online retail giant’s web analytics company Alexa lists India as the country that provides the third highest number of visitors to F1’s official website; America leads with 14.6 percent of the total visitors while the United Kingdom at 11.6 percent and India at 11.3 percent follow.
“In 2011 we pretty much rode the media hype around the inaugural event and the event pretty much sold itself,” said Gaur. “However, I feel we should have done a lot better in 2012 and 2013 and it would be one of our goals to make a greater effort for when we manage to get F1 back.”
The short term plan of hosting two more races seems to have a fair amount of steam behind it then. However, beyond that there seems little to get too hopeful about at the moment.