Bernie Ecclestone has insisted that there will
be an Indian Grand Prix on the Formula 1 World Championship calendar in 2011 as was originally projected – brushing off fears that local politics have delayed the construction of the circuit to be used for the event.
F1 has never raced in India before, but the arrival of Force India in the top flight last year – with Giancarlo Fisichella stunning the paddock in notching up the Silverstone-based squad's first points with second place in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend – allied to having two drivers on its fringes in Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan has significantly boosted interest and passion for motorsport in the country.
The sport's commercial rights chief executive Ecclestone has revealed that he expects work on the track in Greater Noida on the outskirts of the capital of New Delhi to begin later this year, telling news agency PTI
: “It's been on for a long time; there's never been any doubt – the contract was signed a long time back. We are waiting for the circuit to be constructed. The foundation stone would be laid in late October, and I will be in India to lay it.”
However, recent reports emanating from the world's second-most populous country suggest that differences between race promoters JPSK Sports and the government are hampering progress, with the sports ministry blanching at the $36.5 million fee being demanded by Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) company for the honour of hosting a grand prix there, regarding F1 as 'entertainment' rather than sport, something not particularly 'desirable' and an event that would have 'no impact on the development of sports in the country'.
“F1 is not purely sport,” a ministry source told the Times of India
. “It is entertainment, and this venture by JPSK is a commercial initiative. They sought our recommendation for an outflow of nearly 200 crore rupees ($57.7 million), which the ministry felt was not justified for a motor race. The proposed F1 race does not satisfy conditions which focus on human endeavour for excelling in competition with others.”
Whilst former Jordan Grand Prix ace Narain Karthikeyan – the first Indian driver ever to break into F1 back in 2005 – has opined that the track 'will take some time to materialise', the dispute has been played down by Force India chairman and managing director Vijay Mallya [see separate story – click here
], and JPSK Sports has revealed that it intends to approach the ministry again to bid for its support.
“Yes, we went to the ministry seeking government concessions,” acknowledged managing director Samir Gaur. “If need be, we will go again. We are 200 per cent committed to the F1 race in India. We are building a motor car racing track capable of holding an F1 race.”