After the winds of change blew the 2011 Arab Spring eastwards to Bahrain,triggering a massive anti-government wave the Persian Gulf island,Formula One was forced to postpone what was to be the opening race of the calendar at Sakhir. But not willing to antagonise their Bahraini patrons whose petro dollars they very much sought Bernie Ecclestone & Co kept delaying a final decision on the race. It wasn’t before a few drivers and teams put their foot down,on human rights and logistical grounds,that the GP was eventually cancelled for the year. Next year,however,the spectacle was back in the island,and this time it went on despite violent protests,despite a few Force India crew members getting caught in a crossfire on race eve. 2013,too,went ahead despite the unrest.
It was,therefore,with a wry smile that this semi-columnist received Bernie Ecclestone’s remarks that Indian Grand Prix may be dropped from the 2014 calendar as it was too political.
For Bernie,and by extension for F1,politics is never a factor when it comes to deciding where to host a race and where not. Economics is. With the Indian GP,too,the real issue is money. The teams have to pay the Indian government a 70 per cent tax on 1/19th of their annual revenue. Not on the profit,as is the case in a more favourable country such as the UK,but on the total income. And since escalating costs have meant there are hardly any profits for teams,the issue has been a rather thorny one ever since the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in 2011.
So why it has flared up now?
The announcement comes at a time when the F1 season takes a four-week break. It’s a good time to negotiate,list a provisional calendar and send it to FIA in September for approval. And in any such negotiations with the stakeholders,Bernie will have the upper hand. Like FIFA World Cup and the Olympics,he has transformed F1 into such a marketable brand that there are many prospective partners including governments who are ready to roll out a red carpet for the circus: the circuits willing to pay more in license fee,the governments willing to offer tax exemptions.
Next year,if the Indian GP stays on track,the calendar may have a whopping 22 races,with Russia,Austria and a second race in the US (New Jersey) in the pipeline. It’s evident Bernie feels he has nothing to lose here: he can either bargain a better deal in India,or move to some other lucrative destination Mexico,Argentina,Portugal,France,South Africa,Britain (London) are a few names floating around. Clearly,he is spoilt for choice.
Daksh is a special correspondent based in Delhi