Next season's Formula One calendar could swell to as many as 20 races after commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone suggested that the new race in India could be included.
A race on the sub-continent has been the subject of speculation for some time, particularly following Vijay Mallya's arrival in the sport as team owner of the Force India squad. Now, with GP2 frontrunner Karun Chandhok being included in the new HRT line-up, calls to include the race on the 2011 calendar will increase. Chandhok's superlicence to compete this season has been confirmed by the FIA, despite the Indian's new team having yet to turn a lap in testing. The former Red Bull tester was granted the necessary paperwork on the basis of previous test mileage and his history in GP2.
Although Mallya reports that progress is being made with the build of a new grand prix-spec circuit, the whole project was cast into doubt last year when the national sports ministry, abiding by India's exchange control laws, rejected a request to pay $36.5m in foreign currency to Formula One Administration in order to secure a place on the schedule.
"Subject to final approval of the calendar by the World Motor Sport Council, Bernie Ecclestone has informed the FIA that India will host an F1 event in 2011," the sport's governing body revealed in a statement issued ahead of this weekend's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. The current calendar stands at 19 races with the addition of Korea for 2010.
Although no specific mention was made of Rome's inclusion on future schedules, Ecclestone has apparently hinted that the event could appear in coming years during an interview with Speedweek
"Rome will enter into the programme from 2013," he is alleged to have said, "We will have 20 races - and the teams will be happy."
The first step towards holding a race on the streets of the Italian capital came late last year when Ecclestone inked an interim agreement with organiser Maurizio Flammini but, like India, hurdles have been placed in its path with protests from environmental and other groups. The future of the current event at historic Monza is unknown but, with the present policy of only rarely offering two events to any one country - Spain being a notable exception - looks set to mitigate against both being included.
Ecclestone also revealed that he had come close to striking a deal that would have seen South Africa returned to the schedule after an absence of nearly 20 years, but acknowledged that other emerging countries had overtaken the entire African nation in the race to host a grand prix. Kyalami last hosted the F1 circus, when Alain Prost beat the late Ayrton Senna and Mark Blundell on his way to a fourth and final world title.
"When we speak about the F1 world championship, we are aware that Africa is missing," Ecclestone told the official F1 website, "We had talks a couple of years ago and almost reached a deal but, at the moment, they are so wound up with the football World Cup [that] there was not much point in talking."