23 October 2013
Kate Walker: Flirting with India
Kate Walker wonders why F1 is seemingly unable to convert its evident mutual love affair with India into a long-term relationship, in her latest exclusive column for Crash.net.
Used to keeping her eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama, here Kate Walker takes a look at the unique problems facing the Indian round of the F1 world championship, and wonders where it all started to go off the rails - and whether it can be fixed...
Classified by the Indian government as a form of entertainment, not a sport, F1 has an odd relationship with the world's second most populous country. As one of the world's largest markets, and one with a growing middle class equipped with disposable incomes, India is of great interest to F1. And while the passion for motorsport will never match the passion for cricket, there is a sizeable and knowledgeable fanbase already in the country.
For some reason, however, we can't seem to make the relationship work. The Indian Grand Prix has been a series of headaches since the race was first held in 2011, from demands that the sport pay income tax on its single week in the country to the bureaucratic nightmare that is sorting out visas to attend the race.
The 2014 F1 calendar has no slot for the Indian Grand Prix. The official line is that they are trying to avoid holding two races there in six months, and that F1 will be back in Greater Noida in April 2015. But why can't a race near a city the size of Delhi sustain two races in six months when the town of Mokpo is scheduled to do precisely that next April?
Heading to India for this weekend's race, everyone expects it to be our last visit for quite some time. In August, Sameer Gaur – managing director and CEO of Jaypee Sports International – appealed to the Indian central government to start supporting the race financially. In a TV interview, Gaur revealed that JPSI could not afford to extend the race contract beyond its original term without government assistance.
Making matters rather more difficult, on Monday the government of Uttar Pradesh applied for court approval to revoke the entertainment tax exemption secured for F1 back in 2011. The move comes off the back of a separate tax row between the state government and race organisers JPSI, with the government claiming that the promoter didn't declare accurate earnings from the event, resulting in underpayment of tax.
India will not fall completely from F1's radar – it is far too valuable an untapped market for that. But F1's arrival in India may have been premature. As shown by the strong Middle Eastern presence on the calendar and in the boardrooms, as a sport we prefer to be welcomed by governments with arms wide open, feted for all the glitz and glamour we are presumed to trail in our wake.
Being barely tolerated by the powers that be doesn't do F1's ego much good, but it also doesn't do the sport's image much good. Far better to play hard to get, and hope that they miss us as much as we want them to.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.
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