Fears are growing that the Indian Grand Prix will never return to the Formula 1 calendar are continuing to grow, according to quotes attributed to the country’s motorsport chief.
This weekend’s event will mark the last on the subcontinent until at least 2015, with the sport’s organisers and event officials agreeing to bench the race from the 2014 calendar in order to try and reschedule it to earlier in the calendar.
However, there have been a host of conflicting reports as to why the event was really dropped, with stories of scheduling difficulties and complicated tax and bureaucratic hurdles being at the forefront.
An added challenge is that attendance figures have dipped since the event’s debut in 2011. The inaugural race attracted a race day crowd of 95,000, but last year’s Grand Prix saw just 65,000 fans through the gates on Sunday.
It is anticipated that the 100,000 capacity facility will only be half full for this weekend’s race, in which Sebastian Vettel is expected to wrap up a fourth successive World Championship title.
For the teams and attending media, the event is the most difficult to arrange, with both sides being subject to an inordinate amount of bureaucratic checks and taxation procedures, not to mention the hassle of arranging a visa just to enter the country.
The latest development has been the local government’s petitioning the courts to revoke the entertainment tax exemption that the Indian Grand Prix organisers, Jaypee Sports International, had negotiated.
Should this request be granted, that will cost Jaypee something in the region of $5 million in taxes it will have to pay to the state or Uttar Pradesh, while there are also rumours that the company didn’t properly declare its income from last year’s Grand Prix.
Unfortunately this gives those outside India another impression that the country is more interested in gouging as much tax as it can, rather than understanding the overall value that a Grand Prix brings to a region.
It’s a fear that Vicky Chandhok, the country’s motorsport head, has also echoed.
“If it doesn’t come back in 2015, it may never come back at all,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
“That is my concern. Once you lose a race it can be gone forever.”
Unless the powers that be in government can pull their heads out of the sand, it’s unlikely that the event stands a chance of returning to the F1 calendar, which would be a great shame given that the circuit itself is one of the best new circuits to have joined the sport.
The country itself has an ever-growing fan base – courtesy of having a ‘home’ team in Force India and two former drivers flying the Indian flag in past years – but it’s the acts of officials which will ultimately decide the event’s long-term future.