India’s Formula 1 reality check

In 2011 the Buddh International Circuit may have looked like a work in progress with little for spectators to do at the venue besides watch the racing and put up with horrific traffic snarls to and from the venue; but it didn’t seem to matter.

The highest, most popular level of motorsport and one of the most widely followed sporting competition in the world had arrived in India and 95,000 people turned up to watch.

All the teams and drivers, previously only seen on television showered praise on the circuit’s layout, marvelled and the turnout and the genuine interest for the sport and it all seemed hunky-dory. Especially when the who’s who of motorsport administrators and powers that be like Bernie Ecclestone and FIA president Jean Todt came down to personally give their seal of approval.

All the ‘little’ hassles would surely be addressed the following year and to the credit of Jaypee Sports they were. The 2012 Indian Grand Prix would have been a far less stressful experience for a spectator, not to mention more enjoyable thanks to India’s own Aditya Patel taking third and second in the JK Racing Asia Series races that supported the Formula 1 Grand Prix.

But the far reduced turnout (65,000 reportedly) showed that the saying ‘best foot forward’ still has some relevance. If the 2011 Indian Grand Prix was historic, then this year’s event could justifiably have been billed as the ‘reality check’ Grand Prix.

The lack of access to the Yamuna Expressway last year made travelling to the circuit an ordeal for many who decided to take in the GP on television instead.

The recently concluded Abu Dhabi GP made some of the shortcomings in spectator experience at the Buddh International Circuit even more apparent.

While extenuating circumstances turned this Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit into a thriller, there were other features that highlighted the value of keeping the paying customers happy and wanting to come back for more.

Some people may say that the crowd at an F1 race doesn’t matter anymore due to the massive television revenues, it should be noted that shots of empty seats are usually the precursor of trouble for an event.

It should be noted that the circuit in Greater Noida does not have the backing of the national government, unlike Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina but it is lacking in some features that could help make it a popular venue.

Overpasses for spectators to get from one area of a circuit to another make it worth the while of hardcore fans who will be willing to come in the hopes of experiencing more than watching a practice session/qualifying/race from just one vantage point.

An area for spectators to go and amuse themselves would help too. While the expansive Ferrari World experience is hard to replicate, surely the BIC can make better use of its partnership with Mercedes-Benz, which in turn has a big presence in the Indian car market.

If even a fraction of the experience of the biennial Auto Expo can be replicated, with a focus on F1 and other forms of motorsport, interest can be generated and sustained for spectators willing to shell out thousands for a ticket and thousands more to travel to the National Capital Region and find accomodation.

Both Jaypee Sports and those involved in the F1 circus should stop taking it for granted that Indians will readily take whatever it is they’re trying to sell.

Both need to step up their games and give ordinary people and hardcore fans alike a reason to have their ear drums smashed to oblivion.

By Vinayak Pande

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