• GP Week

Time to put out the welcome mat

Abhishek Takle
August 29, 2013
The Indian Grand Prix will be absent from the 2014 calendar © Sutton Images

There has been a lot of talk and speculation in recent weeks surrounding the future of the Indian Grand Prix. As it stands the race has been dropped from the 2014 calendar, with Bernie Ecclestone and the local organisers working to reschedule the event for early in the 2015 season instead.

The Indian Grand Prix typically takes place over the last weekend of October, but in 2015 Ecclestone is keen to see it combined with the first round of flyaway races in March and April. As a result, with there being little sense in hosting two races in the space of six months, the 2014 event has been dropped and the contract extended to 2016 to make up for the dropped year.

Logistical reasons may well have been behind the axing of the race from next year's calendar, but the "political" reasons that Ecclestone has referred to when talking about the future of the Indian Grand Prix need to be addressed when Formula One returns in 2015 if the country is to hold on to the race and not lose it for good.

But that's just it. Does the country want to hold on to the race? When I say country, I mean the government, and by all accounts the answer would seem to be no. Actually, scratch that. It's not that the government doesn't want the race, it's just that they couldn't give a flying fig if Formula One came to India or not.

While drivers love the layout of the track - particularly the elevation changes - and fans in the country are increasingly warming up to the sport, the usually lethargic government by virtue of that very inefficiency is quick to erect bureaucratic hurdles that everyone involved in the sport has to navigate.

There are the tax issues to start with. Apart from the customs duties teams have to pay to get their equipment into India, the government also taxes teams on one-nineteenth of their revenue. Yes, revenue. Not profit. And this despite the fact that the teams don't reside in the country or the fact that the sport doesn't claim any sort of benefit or support from the state or its coffers.

Teams have been paying these taxes and duties since the first year the race was held, when the demands were suddenly sprung on them, and will do so this year as well, but they will only put up with it for so long and patience is wearing thin.

The Indian Grand Prix has been hosted on two occasions so far © Sutton Images

In fact, taxation was one of the sticking points brought up by teams in a private meeting with Ecclestone over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend.

"We understand that under legislation in many parts where we go to we are subject to certain taxes, which is alright and part of the legislation, but I think one should find a good solution there which is good for everyone and just doesn't tax the teams too much," Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, who wasn't at the meeting, said.

Then there is the unbelievable amount of red tape that Formula One people travelling to India have to negotiate. By all accounts, getting an Indian visa is a pain and there have been instances where journalists have missed the grand prix altogether because passports were not ready for collection until after the race. [Editor's note: This happened to me in 2011.]

Personally, I don't see why authorities can't issue a special Formula One e-visa. Bahrain has one. The visa is valid only for the duration of the race weekend (say from a Wednesday to Sunday) and expires on the day of the race which means you have to leave the country by Monday at the latest. I went to Bahrain this year and as a freelancer who doesn't have an office travel desk that handles all of this for me I have to say it was a breeze. Absolutely hassle-free.

It wouldn't cost the government anything. In fact, hosting the race doesn't cost them anything now. In comments to the Indian media Sameer Gaur (MD and CEO of race promoter Jaypee Sports International Limited) said that it would be difficult to keep the grand prix going in the long run unless the government stepped in to share the cost of hosting the race beyond the initial five years.

But given that the government neglects sports far more relevant to the Indian public, I don't see them stepping in to support what many perceive to be an elitist and niche sport.

As clich├ęd as it may sound, the fact is that hosting Formula One -- a sporting event second only to the Olympics and the football World Cup - is a sign that a country has arrived on the world stage and, at a time when India's global image is taking a battering with foreign investors reluctant to invest and multinational companies fed up of doing business in the country, losing Formula One will only further dent India's image.

Which is why, while I understand the government not wanting to share the financial cost of hosting the race, the very least they could do is make the sport feel more welcome.