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Monday, October 31, 2011

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 31 October 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/f1-in-india-a-bumpy-road/328269.html)


NOTE: This isn't opinion. It's a factual piece on why the F1 took so long to come to India, what the controversies surrounding it were, and what the numbers involved look like.)





For several weeks now, the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida, has been the focal point of sports, business, entertainment and mainstream news. It may be one of the last races of the Formula 1 season, but it’s India’s first ever.
As Sebastian Vettel shot past the chequered flag held out by Sachin Tendulkar, and the who’s who of India cheered on, it may have been hard for viewers to believe this was actually happening in this country.
But the story behind the world-class circuit goes back nearly fifteen years, and even now, there are some people who are not too happy about the race coming to India.
A Long Wait
It’s the story of fourteen years and nine cities. Kolkata, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Gurgaon, New Delhi and Lucknow had vied for the privilege of hosting a Formula 1 race. F1 teams Renault, McLaren and Red Bull Racing showcased their cars in several of these cities. But eventually, Greater Noida won out.
When plans were first drawn up in 1997, it seemed likely that Kolkata would host the race. But by 2003, Andhra Pradesh was fighting for a spot – then-Chief-Minister Chandrababu Naidu reserved 1500 acres of land to build a track, and seemed all set to host the Grand Prix (GP) in 2007. Then, Mumbai entered the fray.
Soon after F1 top boss Bernie Ecclestone announced that he expected one of the two cities to host the Indian Grand Prix, there was a swift turnaround, and both projects fizzled out. Hyderabad, which had already begun construction work on the track, converted the space into an IT park.
In June 2007, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) reached an agreement to host a GP in the 2009 F1 season, at Gurgaon. But three months later, the IOA switched the location to Greater Noida. The BIC, envisioned by German F1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke, would be located inside Jaypee Green Sports City, which would also house a cricket stadium, hockey arena and sports training academy.
What Does F1 Mean for India?
The immediate revenue generation from the F1 race was calculated at approximately Rs 800 crore, with prospects of employment for more than 10,000 people. Revenue from ticket sales alone has been estimated at about Rs 25 crore.
The influx of both domestic and international visitors to the capital will be a boost for the tourism and hospitality industries. With about 3000 people affiliated to F1 alone flying in, the Sports City’s spa resort, as well as several of Delhi’s luxury hotels, are packed.
After the Commonwealth Games 2010 turned out to be a hastily-put-together damp squib, India felt compelled to follow up the success of the Cricket World Cup 2011 with a truly global sports spectacle. It is believed that a good show will encourage prospective sponsors to invest.
So, What’s the Problem?
Controversy has plagued plans for the F1 right from the start. First, the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India wasn’t happy about the IOA striking deals in what the former saw as its own domain.
But the bigger problem came with land acquisition. The Uttar Pradesh government bought over land from about 300 farmers, and sold it at a subsidised rate to Jaypee. However, in August, the farmers demanded more money, and threatened to vandalise the circuit if they were turned down. They said they would not benefit in any manner from the GP, and that the acquired lands should be turned into an industrial zone instead. On Friday, a stray dog wandered on to the track, causing embarrassment for the organisers, especially after it was discovered that the protesting farmers had ‘played the prank’.
Earlier, foreign media had reported that many of the labourers involved in the construction of the race track had not been paid in months, and that the lodging, boarding and sanitation facilities in their makeshift camps left much to be desired. This provoked outrage at India’s keenness to showcase a ‘rich man’s sport’ when most of the country was struggling to make ends meet.
As the organisers struggled to keep the farmers and protesters at bay, battles had to be fought off the track too. UP Chief Minister Mayawati decided to waive some of the taxes that would be levied on Jaypee, but this was challenged in the Supreme Court, which has now asked the state for an explanation.
Meanwhile, the organisers have been hauled up for violations in foreign exchange and payment of customs duties.
The Celebrity Factor
While the media spent the last few days dissecting the pros and cons of the event, a carnival atmosphere prevailed in and around the BIC.
A-List celebrities went all out to make India’s maiden GP a memorable one. Cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar was chosen to wave the chequered flag, and a host of sportspersons, actors and politicians attended the race.
These include cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, and VVS Laxman, tennis player Sania Mirza, Union Minister Kapil Sibal, BJP leader Arun Jaitley, and Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Preity Zinta and Arjun Rampal, who hosted a grand after party.
Lady Gaga performed at Rampal’s exclusive night club Lap. However, the much-awaited performance by Metallica in Gurgaon was first postponed because of ‘technical difficulties’ and later cancelled after a furious mob charged the stage and damaged several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of equipment.

THE NUMBER GAME

875 acres: Area of the circuit
5.14 km: Length of the track
308.4 km: Length of the 60-lap race
320 kmph: Top speed in the track
210 kmph: Average speed on the track
150,000: Seating capacity of the arena (13,000 in the grand stand)
Rs 2,500 – Rs 1,00,000: Price range of tickets
900 tonnes: Weight of race support equipment shipped in
30,000 litres: Volume of high-octane fuel shipped in for the race
Rs 200 crore: Cost of constructing the track
Rs 20 crore: Hosting fees
Rs 15 crore: Customs duties
Rs 25 crore: Revenue from ticket sales
600 million: Expected viewership for the race
Rs 150,000 crore: Projected income up to 2040.
100: Number of dishes at the VIP banquet
1:24.178: Fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifiers, set by Sebastian Vettel.
1:30.35.002: Time taken by Sebastian Vettel to win the race.

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