Crash.Net F1 News

India keen to host F1 test

11 December 2012

The Buddh International Circuit has admitted that it would be interested in staging a pre-season F1 test session, but acknowledges that it is unlikely to happen soon.

With two grands prix now under its belt, circuit promoter Jaypee Group has expressed its offer to the sport's management, as well as the teams, but has so far been frustrated in its attempts to drum up interest, despite the guarantee of decent weather conditions – something that could not be taken for granted in Spain earlier this year.

FOM has already decided that next year's preparations will again take place exclusively in southern Europe, with Jerez and Barcelona again sharing the three sessions before racing gets underway in Australia in March. With no mid-season test confirmed at last week's FIA assembly in Turkey, India will have to wait before making another pitch for additional F1 action.

The local IANS news agency quotes a couple of F1 insiders, who admit that logistics remains the main obstacle to testing on the sub-continent, even though, some years ago, several teams – notably Ferrari and Toyota – opted to run separate tests in Bahrain away from the majority of the F1 pack, which was preparing in Spain.

"Given the time and logistics constraints involved in testing new cars pre-season, it's unlikely we'd look for venues outside of Europe,” Lotus press officer, former Crash.net staffer and celebrity houseboat restorer Andy Stobart explained, “The BIC is a fantastic facility, but not one we've considered for pre-season testing."

"As most of the teams are based in Europe, it is convenient to do the testing here,” an unnamed Force India representative confirmed, “No doubt the weather in India is a lot better than the snowy conditions here, but the cost involved is something most teams are not ready for. Also, the cumbersome customs clearance is a dampener….."

Interest in the Indian Grand Prix continues to grow, although marketing experts admit that there is still some way to go before the event can be deemed a success.

“The racing circus finally arrived last year - and what a welcome it was,” Navroze Dhondy wrote on the Pitch website, “Over a hundred thousand flocked to see the very first Airtel Indian Grand Prix.

“The track was a beauty, and acknowledged by the drivers and the teams. The sandy outlays were definitely very demanding for those who arrived for the race, with some teething trouble with the park and ride experiences, the entry and exit points getting choked and even our very own wonderful celebs Tweeting how frustrated they were stuck in traffic or moving at snail's pace when just a few minutes ago they were dreaming of sitting in those mean machines and becoming legendary F1 drivers.”

As with other new F1 destinations such as Malaysia and Korea, the biggest concern with India was whether the public would embrace the cost of tickets to the event.

“There has always been debate on whether the average Indian fan has the keenness to 'buy' tickets for marquee events, be it sporting action, music concerts or stand-up comics,” Dhondy continued, “When PVR set up shop across India and debates were on whether people would pay 75 rupees for a movie going experience to F1 Paddock Club experiences that run into lakhs per ticket, the fan has come a long way.

“Brands too have been wary of accepting change of this magnitude. Yes, the motorsport associates and the regular list of suspects would always be there, but India incorporated has still not warmly embraced F1. Besides the HNI hospitality and some 'motivational team building' outing that got ticket sales going, brands on cars are still a distant dream. Yes, of course our own home-grown team Force India has Sahara, Kingfisher and the UB/USL stable plastered across the snazzy car, but how many others have raised their hands to be counted? Reebok and Doublemint did for the last three years, but they were missing in action this time around.

What has really changed since last year has been the leveraging by the Indian avatars of international brands of their global partnerships with the F1 or teams. Vodafone, Johnny Walker, Red Bull, Renault were aggressive and active. Promotions panned the media and 'meet and greets' were the order of the day. This is heart-warming. The worst thing global brands can do is to let go waste an opportunity that sits there asking to get splashed… The 'engagement factor' is something that will grow in years to come, and brands will have to step up both intensity and longevity of such campaigns to ensure they maximise the bang for the bucks that some person somewhere in the world put down good dollars for.

The big debate that rages through board rooms and marketing brainstorms is the connect of a sport and its target group. Is it class or mass? How does it stack up against cricket? Does the three-hour hospitality dished out at stadiums while top bosses watch [West Indies cricketer Chris] Gayle smash the ball out of the ground stack up against the blur of metal, lap after lap after lap? Is there boredom that sets in?

“Marketing men, in all their wisdom, feel that a logo spot on a zooming car that is a blur for most of the 70-odd laps are still struggling with the 'valuation' business [but] F1 cannot be bought and sold like TRPs, spots, and print ads. Brands and managers have to awaken to the real excitement before, during and after the race.”

The grand prix is not just about bringing F1 to the people, however, with India hoping to gain in broader terms from the exposure the event can give to the country.

Singapore, Monaco, Abu Dhabi have all used F1 as an excellent platform to sell not just the race, but the country, the destination,” Dhondy explained, “This is an area very wanting in India. [The grand prix] gives the Indian tourism industry a real plank.”