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