Cir­cuit Breaker

The Gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to recog­nise F1 as a sport is its big­gest road­block in In­dia

India Today - - GRAND PRIX SPECIAL - Narain Karthikeyan The writer is In­dia’s first F1 driver

Two decades ago, when I was tak­ing my first steps into the world of mo­tor­sport, I never imag­ined in my wildest dreams that one day I’d be rac­ing in For­mula One in front of my home crowd. But life, as they say, is stranger than fic­tion. In Oc­to­ber 2011, it was a mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion when I drove out of the garage at the fan­tas­tic Buddh In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit ( BIC) for the first prac­tice ses­sion, and lined up on the grid on a Sun­day with over 95,000 peo­ple.

De­spite all my years of rac­ing, at some of the most won­der­ful and his­toric cir­cuits around the world, noth­ing pre­pared me for the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­cep­tion my coun­try­men gave me dur­ing the driv­ers’ pa­rade on race day. I still get goose bumps think­ing about it. I was back in ac­tion at BIC in 2012. This year, I’m no longer in F1 as I was no longer in­ter­ested in rac­ing for a back­marker team, but I’ll keep a close eye on the pro­ceed­ings at BIC dur­ing race weekend.

When I first ven­tured to BIC, it sur­passed all ex­pec­ta­tions in terms of scale and fa­cil­i­ties. The track and al­lied in­fra­struc­ture is one of the best. In the af­ter­math of the 2010 CWG, it helped re­store In­dia’s im­age. The 5.14 km track is one of the best—the sur­face is smooth, part flow­ing, part tech­ni­cal, and re­wards a driver for com­mit­ment.

As we get ready to wel­come the F1 cir­cus in the last week of Oc­to­ber, I feel a tinge of sad­ness know­ing we won’t be host­ing the race in 2014. It’s pri­mar­ily due to re­jig­ging of the F1 cal­en­dar to ac­com­mo­date two new races in Sochi, Rus­sia, and New Jersey, USA. It will be next to im­pos­si­ble to have a race in Oc­to­ber this year and again in April 2014 as the costs in­volved in host­ing a race are enor­mous.

The li­cence fee of an es­ti­mated $ 40 mil­lion that JPSI has to pay to For­mula One Man­age­ment ( FOM) is quite steep. The way the com­mer­cial side of the sport is struc­tured, pro­mot­ers are able to re­cover their in­vest­ments through gate re­ceipts alone. It’s one of the rea­sons why cir­cuits around the world are strug­gling fi­nan­cially.

While the slug­gish eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment has only com­pounded the mat­ter, the big­gest road­block is our Gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to recog­nise F1 as a le­git­i­mate sport and treat­ing it as en­ter­tain­ment. This means teams can’t avail of any ben­e­fits in terms of im­port du­ties on con­sum­ables like fuel, lu­bri­cants and other such items, and the bur­den of pay­ing the ad­vance duty falls on the race pro­moter.

If IOC can recog­nise FIA, the global gov­ern­ing body of mo­tor­sport, and if FIA has em­braced the WADA code un­like BCCI, I fail to com­pre­hend why F1 shouldn’t be con­sid­ered a sport here. While I feel ex­tremely priv­i­leged to have been given a Padma Shri, I’d be hap­pier if the Gov­ern­ment were to recog­nise my sport as a le­git­i­mate one.

Rac­ing driv­ers are con­di­tioned to be op­ti­mists. As such, I hope F1 comes back to In­dia in 2015.

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