• The Inside Line

It was a good idea in theory

Kate Walker August 24, 2013
Does the Indian Grand Prix have a future? © Sutton Images
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The Indian Grand Prix is a unique event, although not for the reasons you might think. Culturally and socially every grand prix is unique - they all have their own flavour, their own local character.

What set India apart when it first joined the calendar was the way the race had been financed. All of Formula One's new venues had been built with government support, usually of the financial variety. Governments paid the hosting fees, and were occasionally forced to bus in truckloads of 'fans' so that their investment looked to be a wise one on TV.

But India was different. Rather than empty the government coffers for a showpiece event, the construction of the Buddh International Circuit was paid for by Jaypee Sports International Ltd., and was but one small part of the Jaypee Greens Sports City, a development that was also intended to include a cricket stadium, golf courses, and a field hockey stadium, plus a swathe of housing and associated residential facilities.

The international profile of the grand prix was supposed to trigger investment in the residential complex, and JPSI's underwriting of the race was to be one of those business expenses that is an outgoing in one ledger, yet which leads to a long list of incomings in other ledgers.

That was how it was supposed to work, anyway. It was a novel approach to F1 financing, and one that - if successful - had the potential to revolutionise the way races are funded.

Which is why it was very disheartening to read that Sameer Gaur, managing director and CEO of JPSI, was calling on the Indian central government to support the race. It would be one thing if that support involved recognising Formula One as a sport and dropping the luxury tax levied on F1 teams by a government that sees them as entertainers, not competitors.

But Gaur is calling for the government to contribute to the race hosting fee, a rejection of the original and revolutionary funding model his company had tried - and seemingly failed - to make effective.

"If we want F1 in India on a long-term basis then the government should share the licence fee," Gaur said in an Indian television interview. "That's the only way F1 can survive. Jaypee has made the circuit and paid the licence fee. But how long can we sustain it on our own? There are many governments around the world that share the F1 licence fee."

Gaur went on to say that without the financial support of the government, JPSI would be unable to extend the Indian Grand Prix contract beyond its original five-year term.

Given the balls it takes to try a new approach - and to do so in such a public arena - it is a real shame that Jaypee's attempt to rethink race funding has proved to be unsustainable. Jaypee's passion for Formula One and control over all aspects of the venue led to the creation of a challenging circuit, one of the few modern tracks praised by the drivers.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.