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The Curious Case of Formula 1 in India

What if I told you you could have watched F1 on Doordarshan? Or that we could have had a Hyderabad Gp or even a Mumbai GP long before the Indian GP at Buddh? Surprising right

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India has seen significant growth in its motorsport culture over the past decade. The popularity of racing events like the Indian Grand Prix, which was held first in 2011, demonstrated the immense interest and enthusiasm of Indian fans. Bringing Formula 1 back to India would further fuel this passion and contribute to the development of motorsport in the country. The introduction of Drive To Survive in 2018 only accelerated the growth. When it comes to F1 fan bases around the world, India ranked 5th largest in 2019[1]. But it still doesn’t have an official broadcaster in the country nor do we have an Indian GP. Ever wondered what went wrong? Or what could have been?

1. Broadcasting: Doordarshan to F1TV

Let’s go back to the times when F1 was in India. It all started back in 1995. Schumacher had just won his first championship the previous year, and the world was mourning the passing of Senna. Damon was upset about the Australian GP, and India was about to experience its first live Formula 1 event. Vicky Chandhok, a familiar name, as he’s the father of Karun Chandhok, had his own production house that held the broadcasting rights for F1 races in India.

However, there was a problem. Cable TV had only been introduced in India three years prior, and Chandhok had to decide whether to offer F1 as pay-per-view or show it on the national network, Doordarshan. They chose the safer option of broadcasting F1 on Doordarshan, but it wasn’t easy. Prasar Bharti, the parent organization of Doordarshan, wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about showcasing car racing during their prime-time television slots. Eventually, Vicky had to pay Doordarshan just to broadcast Formula 1 on their network, marking the first live telecast of F1 in India.

However, this arrangement didn’t last long. At that time, F1 cars prominently featured tobacco sponsorships, which became a problem when the Indian parliament decided that promoting such products on television wasn’t ideal. As a result, the broadcasts were abruptly discontinued.

Later on, the broadcasting rights for F1 shifted to ESPNStar, which was known as Star Sports in the early 2000s. Interestingly, many new F1 fans might not be aware that India used to have its own pre and post-race shows, separate from the world feed. Steve Slater became a household name in India as he became the voice of F1 in the country. [2]

Steve Slater - the unsung hero of Formula 1
Steve Slater for Star Sports

However, after ESPNStar transformed into what we now know as Star Sports, the decline in F1 broadcasting began. Investments in Formula 1 were reduced, the pre and post-race shows were canceled, and Indian commentators were lost. Eventually, Indian fans were left with only the international feed, which was also discontinued in 2023 when Star Sports didn’t renew the contract with F1. As a result, Indian fans were left with no option but to subscribe to F1TV in order to watch the sport.

2. Hyderabad: Biryani, Charminar and Formula 1?

Transporting us back to the early 2000s, a time of shifting cultural landscapes and technological advancements, Formula 1 found itself in the spotlight of discussions for a potential race in Hyderabad. Chandrababu Naidu, the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, embarked on a three-day trip to Italy during the Italian GP weekend in an ambitious attempt to bring Formula 1 to Hyderabad as early as 2006. During his visit, he met with Bernie Ecclestone and Herman Tilke, successfully securing Ecclestone’s acceptance to visit Hyderabad and finalize the deal. In fact, a preliminary agreement was even signed, setting the stage for hosting F1 races in the city from 2007 onwards[3]. Simultaneously, Sharad Pawar, the former CM of Maharashtra, announced that Mumbai would also bid for a race, claiming that it possessed better existing infrastructure and was more suited to host a race in the near future[4].

Naidu on fast track - India Today
N. Chandrababu Naidu with Michael Schumacher’s trainer Balbir Singh

However, for Hyderabad to successfully host a Formula 1 race, significant infrastructural improvements were required. These included an international airport, an expressway connecting the airport to the race track, five-star accommodations for the entire grid comprising teams, officials, journalists, and media teams, as well as an international standard trauma center to ensure safety during the event. Additionally, a race track that met all the safety regulations set by the FIA was of utmost importance.[5]

Despite the ambitious plans, the anticipated cost of $200 million posed a significant obstacle. Moreover, the plight of millions of farmers facing a severe drought added to the challenges. Ultimately, Chandrababu Naidu’s dream of bringing an F1 race to his state faded away with his defeat in the 2004 elections. Similarly, Mumbai’s bid for an F1 race also faced a similar fate, as the government showed little interest in allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for motorsports ventures.

3. It’s here! Indian GP Gurgaon 2010 Noida 2011

In June 2007, following extensive negotiations between the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Bernie Ecclestone, it was officially announced that India would host a Formula 1 race in the 2009 season. The chosen location for the race was Gurgaon, and the track design was entrusted to the renowned Hermann Tilke. However, in September of the same year, a change in plans emerged, and it was decided that the race would instead debut in 2010 at the Buddh International Circuit.

Charles Pic, Caterham CT03 Renault, Indian Grand Prix 2013

Unfortunately, due to delays in land acquisition and construction works, the inaugural Indian Grand Prix was once again postponed, this time for an additional year. The timeline was incredibly tight, with the circuit’s inauguration occurring just a few weeks prior to the October 2011 Indian Grand Prix.[6]

4. Empty your pockets.

Jaypee Group, the owners of the track, invested approximately $463 million at that time in the construction of the circuit, aiming to recoup their investment as quickly as possible [7] . Additionally, they had to pay around $50 million just to secure a spot on the Formula 1 calendar. Consequently, ticket prices for the event were set quite high. During the inaugural race, the cheapest ticket was priced at Rs 2,500, while the Main Grandstand boasted a staggering Rs 35,000 price tag. However, due to poor sales, organizers later reduced the Main Grandstand ticket price to Rs 15,000 for the Race Day. Regardless, the inaugural race drew a crowd of approximately 1 lakh people.

In the following year, both ticket prices and attendance decreased. The cheapest ticket for the 2012 Indian Grand Prix was available for Rs. 2,000 on the Race Day, with the most expensive grandstand tickets priced at Rs. 12,000 for Sunday. Customers also had the option to purchase a season pass for all three days of the weekend, ranging from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 21,000 [8].

Formula 1: 2013 Airtel Indian Grand Prix ticket bookings open | India.com
Tickets for the 2013 Indian GP

However, in the third year, attendance rebounded. The race attracted a total of 85,000 people, and ticket prices were made even more affordable. The cheapest and most expensive tickets for the race day were priced at Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 12,000, respectively, while the season pass for the entire weekend ranged from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 21,000. [9]

5. Did you pay your tax?

Despite the challenging economic conditions, Jaypee remained committed to its plans and invested approximately Rs 2,000 crore (USD 314 million) in the construction of the Buddh International Circuit on the outskirts of Delhi. According to the audited accounts of Jaypee Sports International Limited (JPSI), the company also paid a licensing fee of Rs 197.7 crore (USD 31.1 million) for the inaugural race, a figure that increased to Rs 249.6 crore (USD 39.1 million) by the third edition, indicating the presence of an escalation clause in the contract.

Additionally, the inaugural race incurred operating expenses of Rs 121 crore (USD 19 million), bringing the combined costs well beyond Rs 300 crore (USD 47 million).

The exact amount of taxes paid by JPSI for hosting the race is difficult to determine as the relevant figures are not segregated in the accounts from other company activities. However, leading Indian media outlets estimated custom duties to be somewhere between Rs 8 – 10 crore (USD 1.25 – 1.57 million). The government later dropped this tax in 2014, a few months after the last Indian Grand Prix.

In terms of revenue, the promoters were only able to recover Rs 140 crore (USD 21.2 million) from the 2011 Indian Grand Prix, despite attracting a crowd of 95,000 fans to the event. The figure dropped to nearly half at Rs 76 crore (USD 11.5 million) in 2012 but recovered substantially to Rs 113 crore (USD 17.1 million) in 2013.

By this time, Jaypee had managed to reduce the operational expenses of the circuit, bringing the total cost of staging the event down to Rs 273 crore (USD 42.91 million). However, the conglomerate still had to write off losses of Rs 160 crore (USD 25.13 million), without considering taxes. [10]

6. “WE WERE ON A BREAK”

There were numerous other challenges to overcome as well apart from the tax issues. Dealing with customs to import equipment for the race teams proved to be a headache, with Ferrari even attributing their loss in the 2012 race to the delay in obtaining critical parts. The visa process was also unforgiving, as Karun Chandhok revealed in an interview with the BBC, stating that numerous media personnel and team members were unable to attend the race due to visa complications.

“Just this week, I have had at least 50 different media people from around the world, and people from teams, engineers who have called me to say, ‘Hey, we are stuck in London without a visa, we can’t come to the race” Karun Chandhok told BBC [11]

In 2014, Formula 1 initially sought to schedule a race in March instead of October, but the organizers were not prepared to host the event twice within a span of six months. However, they eventually agreed to the change. Unfortunately, the Indian Grand Prix was ultimately dropped from the calendar for that year, with Bernie Ecclestone citing bureaucratic and political issues as the primary reasons for excluding India from the 2014 F1 calendar [12] . Despite assurances that the race would return in 2015, it never materialized.

Furthermore, the owners of the track, Jaypee Group, encountered financial difficulties. As of March 31, 2015, the conglomerate’s total debt was estimated to be around Rs 75,000 crores, according to foreign brokerage firm Credit Suisse. To alleviate the debt burden, Jaypee Group opted to sell some of its cement and hydro-power plants. [13]

7. So long, farewell?

So, what’s next for the Formula 1 in India? One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that the Indian government considers Formula 1 or motorsports in general as entertainment rather than a sport. While it’s true that F1 was taxed as entertainment during its time in India, that was only at the state government level, not the central government. In 2015, the Indian government officially recognized motorsports as a sport when they included the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI), the governing body of motorsports in the country, in the list of sports ministry-backed national sports federations [15] .

Image
CM Yogi Adityanath unviels ticket for India’s first MotoGP race.

It’s difficult to say for certain when the Indian Grand Prix might make a comeback, but considering the recent debut of Formula E and MotoGP in India in 2023, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Formula E is receiving support from the Telangana government, while MotoGP has been assured by the Uttar Pradesh government—something that Formula 1 didn’t have during its time here. These are promising signs. With proper planning and support, the return of Formula 1 to India is within reach, although there are other factors to consider. Even if India is the perfect place to host an F1 race, it’s not guaranteed to secure a slot in the super hectic 24-race calendar that F1 currently has. Nevertheless, we remain hopeful that F1 will make its way back to the country soon.

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Formula 1

A Three way Battle in Budapest: The 2024 F1 Hungarian Grand Prix Preview.

Formula One returns to the historic Hungaroring, a tight twisty and unpredictable race track. Read DRC’s race preview here.

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As Red-Bull and Mclaren pull away from the field, Mercedes joins the party. With three race winning cars on track, all three will look to bag good points, while Ferrari will be hopeful for a better result. Welcome to DRC’s F1 Hungarian Grand Prix Preview.

Read the British Grand Prix Review here.


Know the Hungaroring

The tight and twisty Hungaroring track is located in Mogyorod, 11 miles west of the Hungarian capital, Budapest. Described as an enlarged go-kart circuit, it is one of the most technically challenging circuits on the calendar.

The Hungaroring Circuit.
The Hungaroring circuit. Photo credits: F1

The 14 corner track is also called Monaco without the walls, owing to it’s high downforce requirements. Even though overtaking is very difficult here, the track has undergone only one major revision, which was in 2003. The main straight was extended another 200 meters to make it 900m long, and the first corner was tightened to promote overtaking.

The track contains two back-to-back DRS zones, followed by a technical middle sector full of chicanes and esses. The final sector is a short one, only featuring two hairpins that feed back into the main straight. A good middle sector is crucial here.

Historically, Hungary has been a circuit full of firsts. It was the first and only circuit to host a race beyond the Iron Curtian. It is also famous for giving drivers their first wins. Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and most recently, Esteban Ocon have taken their first wins here. Max Verstappen took his first pole back in 2019 at the Hungaroring too.

The 2024 F1 Hungarian Grand Prix will consist of 70 laps around this 4.381 kilometer circuit, with a two stop strategy as the norm.


Red Bull look to fight back blow for blow

Over the last few races, Red Bull has fallen off the pace and is slowly falling into the clutches of McLaren, and even Ferrari. Right now, Red Bull lead Ferrari by 71 points, closely followed by McLaren. With both McLaren cars consistently finishing in the top 5 in the last races bar Norris’s retirement in Austria, and Checo only scoring 8 points in the last five races, it has become difficult for Max and Red Bull to outscore the Papaya clad team.

McLaren’s last upgrade has significantly improved their performance, while Red Bull is still struggling to find and mend the issues with the RB20. Verstappen recently tested the RB18 at Imola, in an attempt to figure out the problem with the new car. As Red Bull work hard to rectify their problems, McLaren seems to be getting better and better. And now with Mercedes back in the fray, a new challenger is rising to take their throne.

Max Verstappen testing the RB18 at Imola.
Max Tests the RB18 in Imola. Image cradits: Autosport

Another factor is the two on one that Max has to face. With Checo qualifying poorly, Max has to take on the McLaren, and sometimes the Mercedes pair alone. Two cars in the mix would greatly help Red Bull, and Checo will be motivated to improve his Qualifying and Race records.


Mercedes on the up as Hamilton eyes another record

The Hungaroring has always been kind to Mercedes. They have the most wins here in the Turbo-Hybrid era. Russell and Hamilton snatched pole here in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Hamilton has also won eight races here, and his first victory with Mercedes came here in 2013.

Mercedes usually nail the set-up here. With the team riding high after back-to-back victories in Austria and Silverstone, they would love to go for a treble. Lewis Hamilton will also eye a record equaling nine victories. After his win in Silverstone, he now holds the record for most wins at a single circuit with 9.

George Russell also has a fantastic track record here, finishing in the points every year since 2021, where he came eight for a struggling Williams. A podium and a top 5 finish followed in 2022 and 2023.

Mercedes will want to secure a large bag of points here, to reduce the 152 points defecit they have to the leaders Red Bull and to catch up with McLaren and Ferrari.


A Ferrari Renaissance on the Horizon?

Ferrari seems to have dropped off after their excellent performances in Melbourne and Monaco. This year, Ferrari seem to be a heavily down-force reliant car, with podiums for Charles and Carlos in Sakhir, Jeddhah, Melbourne and Suzuka, all tracks which require downforce. Of course their victories on the streets of Melbourne and Monte-Carlo confirms this.

Charles Leclerc Wins in Monaco.
Ferrari have dominated the Downforce heavy circuits. Image Credit: Anonymous

Their struggles at the more balanced tracks of Canada and Barcelona, along with power heavy tracks like Austria and Silverstone have cost them dearly. It is also evident that the Ferrari is one of the more draggy cars on the straights and struggle with straight line speed.

As the Hungaroring is a heavy-downforce track, it seems like Ferrari have a shot at victory here. This might be one of the few chances for them to get points during the European Leg of the season, along with Zandvoort and Baku. Consequently, Ferrari have bought new floor upgrades to make most of this valuable chance. A huge points haul in the Hungarian Grand Prix will solidify their chances against McLaren, Red Bull and even Mercedes who look threatening.


Dark Clouds loom over the race

An alarming video was shared by Mikey Brown, a mechanic at Aston Martin, shows the Pitlane flooding in what he described as “a HUGE storm” . McLaren, having barely repaired their motorhome in time for the British GP after the fire in Catalunya, have suffered another issue. The repaired motorhome has lost it’s roof multiple times over this week, thanks to the speedy winds.

Even though Meteorologists predict a dry weekend, a small rain shower, combined with the high humidity in Hungary this time of year can put the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend in doubt.


Championship Standings

This is how the championship looks as we head into the race weekend:

The 2024 Formula One world championship standings as of 18/07/2024.
Credits: F1

Race Weekend Schedule

All events during the weekend are available to watch on F1TV and Fancode. The times given below are in IST(GMT +5:30).

DRC's Hungarian Grand Prix Race weekend schedule.

Follow Desi Racing Co to keep up to date with the speedy world of motorsports.

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Formula 1

Toyota rumoured to partner with Haas in an exhilarating return to F1

Toyota rumoured to partner with Haas to back a sensational return to F1.

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As the F1 silly season continues, a rather surprising bit of rumour is that the world’s largest automaker, Toyota, is set to return to the F1 grid as early as 2025 with the Haas F1 team.

Credits: Haas F1 team

The partnership is said to start out with a sponsorship deal, possibly with a renaming on the cards. A deal akin to that of Alfa Romeo and Sauber. With the possibility of a future technical partnership on the chassis/engine development. Toyota will likely join Dallara in assisting Haas for the chassis. Other talks suggest that Haas will use Toyota’s facilities for development and manufacturing. While this means Toyota won’t be directly involved in the construction of the F1 car, it means Haas gets a huge boost in infrastructure, experience, etc; and Toyota gets a new source of income.

Toyota’s history in F1

The Japanese manufacturer has seen immense success in WEC, taking 5 consecutive 24 hours of Le Mans victories from 2018 to 2022 and WRC, clinching the manufacturers’ championship in 2018, 2021, and 2022, and the championship for drivers and co-drivers every year since 2019. It wasn’t so for its time in F1, or at least according to Toyota’s standards and ambition.

Credits: Toyota-europe.com

Toyota made their debut F1 in 2002. The team scored 17 podiums, and 3 pole positions but never achieved a victory. Only securing 2nd place as their best finish till they dropped out of the sport in 2009, midway through the development of the 2010 car.

What does this mean for Haas, Toyota, and F1?

Toyota’s failure was blamed on a lot of factors, this deal gave the Japanese manufacturer a second chance to right their wrongs. Haas has been on a consistent upward trajectory throughout the 2024 season. With Nico Hulkenberg scoring back-to-back P6 finishes at the Austrian and British GP, and Kevin Magnussen backing that up with commendable performances. The deal could help Haas gain the brute force of employees, resources & financial aid. Something that they have been lacking to make a meaningful impact in the sport.

F1 would most certainly benefit from having a Japanese Manufacturer in the sport. The Japanese GP attendance and the growing popularity of F1 have been steadily increasing in the country. Toyota’s return could also provide F1 with a boost to their competitiveness and financial gains.

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Formula 1

GIFT City’s Formula 1 Racetrack Plans Hit a Roadblock

GIFT City’s ambitious plan to build a Formula 1 racetrack has stalled due to structural issues and high costs, sources reveal. Initially flagged off with a feasibility study, the project now faces uncertainties.

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Gujarat’s GIFT City’s ambitious plan to build a racetrack for holding Formula 1 (F1) races has come to a grinding halt just four months after initiating a feasibility study and selecting consultants, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Earlier this year, on March 11, the Gujarat Sports Authority announced that top international F1 racetrack designers were invited to present the feasibility of constructing an F1 racetrack at GIFT City. The project saw intense competition among global designers, with the consortium of renowned German designer Hermann Tilke and India’s Arcop architects emerging as the frontrunner for the feasibility study.

GIFT City (Photo: Amit Dave/Reuters)

However, GIFT City’s plan has been halted, insiders revealed. “Designers had given feedback that given the layout of GIFT City, it may be difficult to build a racetrack that conforms to F1 standards due to structural issues,” said one source.

The financial implications also pose a significant hurdle. Estimates place the cost of building such a racetrack between Rs 5,000 and 10,000 crore.

R.S. Ninama, Director General of the Gujarat Sports Authority, and Hermann Tilke have not responded to inquiries from ET. Another source indicated that the project might be integrated into a larger plan for developing infrastructure for the Olympics. “So, you may get a racetrack, but not one that can host F1 races,” the source added.

GIFT City, located in Gandhinagar, has been developed as a financial hub. The city is aimed at attracting international businesses with various tax incentives. The government is focusing on enhancing the city’s livability by developing entertainment and leisure infrastructure. Notable projects include an underwater aquarium, water sports facilities, and a retail zone featuring a 158-meter-high Ferris wheel.

This story has been derived from a story reported by Economic Times.

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