Despite power cuts, wildlife running free on the circuit, bats in the media centre (along with the usual culprits) along with a general last minute panic to complete the spectator viewing areas, the Indian GP was hailed by the F1 elite as a great success.
Sebastian Vettel won the race for Red Bull Racing and an ebullient Christian Horner remarked following the race: “It has been brilliant. The reaction that we have had from the Indian public and the fans, and the way they have been so excited about F1, is that they feel truly privileged to have a race here.
“It is a great circuit, and next year’s event will be even bigger now that people have understood what F1 is,” Horner concluded.
Clearly Christian was wrong. The Indian people didn’t get Formula One and the following year the attendance declined by a third, with an even more diminished turnout for the final event in 2013.
Ecclestone announced in 2013, that the Indian GP would be taking a sabbatical and return to the F1 calendar in 2015. Two years have passed since Sebastian Vettel won his third race at the Buddh International Circuit and the Indian GP is again absent from the 2016 schedule.
“I don’t think the Indian GP will ever happen again,” the former Jordan and HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan tells the Times of India. “The Formula One promoters are also not showing any interest. The government has to show interest in hosting F1. Without the support from the government, it is impossible. There are only two or three where the government is not involved and India is one of them.”
Karthikeyan explains why the event collapsed: “It was too expensive… the affordability was a big factor. The maintenance of the track itself ran up to 5 crore ($75,000) per month. Then the spectators didn’t turn up. After that there were differences between the F1 promoters and the organizers of Indian GP. Subsequently, it went into a spiral.
“Personally, I don’t think India is ready to host a GP yet. The EPL [English Premier League] is more popular than F1 in India.”
India and Korea were all part of Bernie Ecclestone’s big expansion plans to take Formula One to the East and develop an interest for motorsport in the indigenous populations. The plan failed.
India is a nation fanatical about cricket, the game of willow and leather dominates the sports scene on the sub-continent. India hosts the wealthiest cricket tournament in the world during the spring, and players from every nation are desperate to go there to play. However, the English Premier League has been slowly building support on in India for some years now.
The EPL has been a source of inspiration for the Indian Super League (soccer), which was launched in 2014. There were no requirements for brand new $250 million stadia, no huge licensing fees were required and no state support for the events either. The goal of the founders was to make football a top sport in India and to sow the seeds to ‘grow Indian football into a major player worldwide’.
The series is run like the IPL Twenty20 cricket tournament and Major League Soccer in the USA using a franchise system with of 8 teams and no promotion and relegation.
However, the league has been criticised by many for an over reliance on big name foreign footballers who are in the twilight of their careers and who are playing for big bucks. “It’s good for the show”, said Brazilian legend Zico, though a longer term strategy shift will be required to improve grass roots football.
Yet for a ‘start up’ sport, the ISL has been impressive. During the 2014 season which was won by Atlético de Kolkata, the average stadium attendance was 26,000 and for each of the 56 matches, the TV viewers averaged 29 million. This makes the ISL the fourth-best supported league in the world.
Meanwhile in another sport trying to crack the Indian market, there is a brand new multi hundred million dollar cathedral of speed, which lies derelict; a testimony to a different business plan which is ultimately doomed to fail.