F1 still struggling to gain a foothold in India

From the stands

Adrian Sutil, Force India, Buddh International Circuit, 2013F1 Fanatic reader @AbhishekRoy observes how far away F1 remains from establishing itself in India after visiting this year’s grand prix.

I began watching Formula One ten years ago, and in 2011 it came to my country for the first time. But with no race in India on next year’s calendar I knew I had to take my chance to be in the grandstand for what could be its final race.

It’s difficult to believe this is the same sport which was greeted by extraordinary fanfare when it first arrived in India just two years ago. Top Bollywood stars and politicians queued up to attend but the development of the race since then has to be viewed as a disappointment.

When I had arrived at the circuit this year it wasn’t difficult to find evidence of the lengths F1 still needs to go to take root in Indian sporting culture. The level of basic motor sport knowledge among racegoers was surprisingly low.

The majority of grandstand seats appeared to be occupied by people with little knowledge of motor racing who had obtained free tickets as corporate or political gifts. Talking to those around me I quickly discovered many had never watched any form of motor sport, even on television.

One group was being educated in the mysteries of why some drivers get to start closer to the front of the grid than others. The occasional appearance of a car in the pits was greeted with curiosity if little understanding what purpose these periodic pit visits served.

This experience rammed home the point that the fan base for motor sports in India is very limited. Although it has grown in recent years, it remains very small compared to what you would find in western countries.

The gradual decline in Indian involvement in the race hasn’t helped matters. In 2011 we had Narain Karthikeyan racing and Karun Chandhok driving in practice. The following year only Karthikeyan was present, and this year he was gone too.

Karthikeyan and Chandhok were major factors in attracting fans from Southern India – in 2013, an overwhelming number of tickets were sold to people living in Delhi or near Capital Region. Their absence from the Formula One scene only made things worse for the event.

Force India has conducted several competitions and promotional events to gather crowds in the stands, but the involvement of a British-based, Indian-owned team does not seem to have the same resonance with the fans as having an Indian driver does. Those near me in the stands who had heard of Vijay Mallya wondered why he would run an F1 team which is still looking for its first win in its sixth year of competition.

The tax issues which have dogged the event were thrust into the spotlight ahead of the race when a petition was brought against it in court which, fortunately, amounted to nothing.

But perhaps more attention should be paid to the onerous costs faced by Indian fans rather than the visiting teams. The high cost of tickets is clearly a disincentive for potential spectators.

Ticket prices compare favourably with European races: entry to the main grandstand at Buddh International Circuit costs about as much as a general admission attendance at Spa-Francorchamps. But this is very steep for an average middle class Indian family.

Start, Buddh International Circuit, 2013The cheapest ticket of 2,000 Rupees (just under ??20) for the picnic area is is around four times the price of a cricket match ticket. The high cost of attendance and limit fan base inevitably makes for small crowds with many tickets being given away as freebies to boost attendance.

Those who do make it to the track are in for a treat. From my view in the centre of the main grandstand I had an excellent view of the entire starting grid, the pit stops of each and every team, and the post-race podium celebrations. These included, of course, the newly crowned world champion performing doughnuts on the pit straight!

In a further indication of the difficulty the sport has had taking root in India, the only event on the support bill was the MRF series, leaving a lot of dead track time.

The atmosphere was very energetic as most of those present at the circuit were first-timers who had never witnessed a race at a circuit. It was good to see quite a few foreigners present at the grandstand, mostly supporting drivers from their respective countries (with plenty of support for Vettel in particular).

But although the race saw the crowing of 2013 drivers’ and constructors’ champions, and the track being received positively by the F1 fraternity, it?s the fans who make a sporting event successful. The 2013 Indian Grand Prix had everything but this, and this may ultimately result in this year?s race being the final time the country heard the roar of the Formula One engines.

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61 comments on F1 still struggling to gain a foothold in India

  1. Colm Lynn (@99-colm) said on 7th November 2013, 11:06

    An event like this needs to be given 10 years to see how it will develop, China now pulls in a 100,000 at its gp which is comparable with Britain. It just looks lost in such a big arena.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 7th November 2013, 21:10

      The Chinese government can afford to run F1 at a loss but private promoters can not.
      The price promoters have to pay to stage a GP (+ – $50million) is the biggest hurdle to establishing F1 in a country, particularly in a poor country, yet at most it provides $400m. per year to FOM out of a total income of $1.5 billion, clearly this is a case of short term profit over long term growth.

  2. Jeevan (@jee1kimi) said on 7th November 2013, 11:22

    india needs time to accept and embrace F1..Still 5-6 years should be given …

  3. I winced with embarrassment when I watched the Grand Prix on tv recently at just how many completely empty grandstands there were. Doesn’t this prove that there is no real fan base in India and with no race next year I would think the return in 2015 will happen but again to very empty grandstands.

    It does seem strange to me that Motorsport rich countries like France have no GP but apathetic India does ?

    • Exactly, I’m sad for India but as a Frenchman – with 4 drivers and a world champion engine on the grid, I’m even more saddened not to have a GP. I went to Spa and Catalunya, but never to Magny-Cours as it is misexposed to go to.
      All those circuit graveyards make me wander why we keep building new ones around the planet.
      F1 has to start its ecologic view on circuit before engines.

      • Steph (@stephanief1990) said on 7th November 2013, 14:41

        If F1 doesn’t go to new places then it’ll stay Eurocentric and therefore it would be a joke to call it a “world championship”. It also wouln’t help the cause of Indian drivers one bit. F1 needs to go to as many different countries as it can but it needs to be made accessible to the population.

        • @stephanief1990 Yeah Steph, let’s waste money all over the world to build new facilities that becomes obsolete after just 3 years, that is a clever way to spend the money of the taxpayers.
          India does not need F1. Kids are starving mate.

          • Steph (@stephanief1990) said on 7th November 2013, 15:33

            @jeff1s that is not the only option available- if you think so then you lack creativity. Build the facility, invest in F1 in the area, invest in motor sport in the area, make prices affordable, put the track in an accessible location (unlike Turkey for instance) and have grandstands close to the track (unlike China for instance). It’s not your money either – I don’t support investment from governments because they should spend money on social programmes but F1 is largely a private enterprise.

            Given that I volunteer every week for a homeless charity I’m well aware that people are starving, but thanks for that worldly update.

          • Karthikeyan (@ridiculous) said on 7th November 2013, 15:51

            Kids are starving mate

            Must be the reason why the french are running after gypsies

          • maarten.f1 (@maarten-f1) said on 7th November 2013, 21:03

            @stephanief1990 I’m so with you that governments shouldn’t be funding a Grand Prix. Unfortunately, it’s so expensive to host a Grand Prix that it’s almost impossible to do without government funding. And the reasoning of many within Formula 1 (not just Bernie) is that governments should chip in because they also reap the benefits. To me Formula 1 has increasingly become a bubble that will, at some point, burst. Many great circuits have been taken off the calendar because they cannot get the funds together to host an F1 race, and many others are struggling to do so.

        • Nick (@nick-uk) said on 7th November 2013, 23:22

          @stephanief1990

          It’s never been a very global sport anyway. They just call it that as an after the fact statment. It’s primarily a British sport that tours the world in my opinion. The majority of those involved in the sport are British for one, all the factories are where many of the cars are built as well. Until we see multiple fully foreign teams like Japanese, Chinese, American, Australian (or any other country really) teams, the sport can’t justifiably be called “global”.

          I very much want it to be a fully global sport, but it is not.

  4. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 7th November 2013, 11:47

    The price is what puts people down. I read that it costs 4 times more than a cricket match ticket. And you go: “they spent 500 million on this track for F1 to come, and I still have to pay a ridiculous amount of money?”

    That kicks in people, specially if they have to be seduced towards going to the GP. If the ticket was cheap the first year, people would go, love it or hate it, and come back if they want to. And those who loved it, would tell their relatives and they’d all go. And that’s where the falling snowball starts to gte bigger.

    But the tickets were high the first time out, the spectacle was mediocre at best, the “this is a rip off” thing comes to your mind, and the public forgets about it…

    • Steph (@stephanief1990) said on 7th November 2013, 14:41

      Couldn’t agree more @fer-no65

    • verstappen (@verstappen) said on 7th November 2013, 15:05

      I find 4 times the price of a cricket match very normal.
      I think in Europe it’s about 4 times the price of a football match.

      However, if you consider the excitement provided at India it’s a rip off. But so is Abu Dahbi, unless you like ledflooded architecture.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 7th November 2013, 15:14

        @verstappen depends where you put it. 4 times more than the most popular sport in the country for a ticket in a very unknown event? it’s too much. 4 times more for something that’s been part of the history of a country (Germany, UK, Spain…), well, it’s a fair price for something that only happens once a year.

        • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 7th November 2013, 16:46

          Also the European rounds are the most prestigious of a very diverse domestic motorsport scene (Monaco excepted of course), with prices as low as ~£10 for the grass-roots level.

        • Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 7th November 2013, 17:14

          @fer-no65 Exactly mate . If they reduce the prices for Grandstand tickets and popularize by providing good ads , then India is a huge market . The key is to make people excited , then you will be surprised with the numbers in our country .
          The next step would be an Indian driver , not an old Narain(Sorry there my fellow contemporary. I know you have won in every other category) but a young Hamilton type talent . I am sure there are lots out there , inaccessible .

        • verstappen (@verstappen) said on 7th November 2013, 20:44

          Well, I think – and have experienced this as an entrepeneur – if you’ll lower the price, at the end you’ll inflate your product. We’re talking about what? Promilles of the people.
          Mercedes doesn’t lower their prizes, they’re Mercedes!
          F1 is F1 and in a country which is developing like crazy, there must be money.
          Marketing failure – but not with the pricing. @fer-no65 and the others.

          • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 8th November 2013, 0:09

            @verstappen maybe. It’s still the same issue, but the other way round. You say that instead of making it affordable, we should capture those that can pay with better marketing.

            Well, that could work. But I don’t think capturing the payers that have no interest, instead of allowing the ones that are interested, works better.

            Either way, it’s a complicated matter.

      • praveen said on 12th November 2013, 16:16

        i am sorry but the ticket prices for cricket matches is higher than the formula one event….the lowest prices for cricket matches is Rs1000 and can go up to Rs 20000 as well……

  5. Julien (@jlracing) said on 7th November 2013, 12:20

    Well apart from the fact that there is almost no existing motorsport culture in India,
    also the support programme is very, very important in a GP weekend.
    I have been to the German gp this year and the whole programme was just fantastic.
    I have seen every session of every racing class. If you go a weekend to a Grand Prix, then you go for
    the whole experience, not just for only the F1 race.

    On thursday I have done the pit walk and there was a bus tour on the racing track.
    And on the weekend there are practice and qualifying sessions and races from F1, Gp2, Gp3 and the Porsche Supercup. That whole build up to the highlight of the weekend, the F1 race, made the experience just fantastic.
    That is also what India is missing.

  6. From my experience it’s the ticket prices that puts off people from attending the Indian GP.. There is quite a lot of F1 fans in India but sadly many of them can not afford the expenses to watch the Indian GP… On top of that it’s a vast country so travel itself is tiring if you are not from near new Delhi( from where I live the venue is more than 2000 LMs away)… It’s true that F1 has quite a long way to go before reaching somewhat similar levels of following like Cricket(the most popilar sport in India)… But Given time and reduced ticket fares, Am sure F1 can and will be very popular in India… 10 years back nobody used to follow the Premier league in India but trust me it’s very popular these days.. I hope Indian GP will be back in 2015 and F1 will become more popular..

  7. Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 7th November 2013, 12:59

    As an Indian fan I am indeed sad . Despite all other things , I managed to attend this year and it was just spectacular. Music to my ears .The sound of the first ever F1 car I watched live (Perez’s Mclaren) will be permanently stamped in my memory .There are organizing hassles also and as someone above has said , There is no “atmosphere” . I was even denied entry into the merchandise stalls because I had a ticket for another stand . When asked about this to the organizers they said , well you can buy them in malls can’t you ? after which I stood there laughing at that guy for about 2 minutes .
    But , I am ever-grateful to this grand prix to have even materialized and for the people who helped bring this to India as it has given me the experience unlike another which I doubt I am likely to have by travelling elsewhere at least not for another 5 years.

  8. Too bad. The track layout is good, wich is quite rare on new circuits. I hope all of this won’t be lost.

  9. Anirudh S (@anirudh1992) said on 7th November 2013, 13:56

    I think that the circuit location was wrong. Motorsports is popular in South India esp Tamil nadu,where India’s only 2 circuits existed before Buddh. Motorsports was as and is popular down South. If MMST in Chennai or Kari Speedway was upgraded,then audience would have come.

  10. Mallesh Magdum (@malleshmagdum) said on 7th November 2013, 14:32

    Great article. I would like to add two more things.
    In India, you gotta have local talent in fray. In the CW Games only those sports with Indians in attendance manager to pull the crowd. Events like Rugby7 final was held in empty arenas!

    Then its the issue of track location. Most F1 fans are in South India and the track is in North India. South Indians face problems with language(most Southerners dont speak Hindi) while visiting North. And also I have heard that going to Malaysian and Singapore GPs is cheaper for us in the South!

  11. Corrado (@corrado-dub) said on 7th November 2013, 14:37

    I’m sorry for them, but this looks like a flop. I’m pretty sure the reason behind going to India and China etc has more to do with the money (profits) than anything else. I think they thought the grandstands will be full because these 2 countries have a huge population. Yeah, I find it hard to believe myself that from a population of +1billion it’s impossible to fill 100-150,000 seats… but it just happened ! As someone said above, how come there’s no GP in France ??

  12. Lucas Wilson (@full-throttle-f1) said on 7th November 2013, 15:13

    I wonder what the biggest F1 circuit attendance flop of all time was?

    I remember a fact that there was an animal show or something in the same town in the US at the same time as the F1 race there and more people went to the animal thingy!

  13. Gordon (@gfreeman) said on 7th November 2013, 15:28

    If I’m honest, I don’t think F1 will ever reach the popularity in India that cricket has. The only way it’ll surge up is if an India driver is on the grid, and not only that – but being competitive and even winning. As far as I know, the only hope of that is Jehan Deruvala (in the Force India young driver program) but that is still a long way away.
    Karun and Narain would have helped the popularity of F1 in India, but as the article said, the majority of spectators were from Southern India (where they’re from) when they were on the grid. Had they been in the top ten or even fighting for the wins, there would have been much more interest in the Indian GP and even more widespread around the country.

  14. F1_gp said on 7th November 2013, 15:43

    I think, Indian gp may be succeed if it was organized in south India (Bangalore or Chennai).

  15. Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 7th November 2013, 15:45

    Basically it’s too late, next year it will be off the calendar and that fact is enough evidence for me it hasn’t filled Bernies pockets enough for him to give it another go in 2015. It’s weird you know because even though there is still a lot of poverty in India it remains an economical boomer with an rapid increasing middle class and more rich folks as well. A perfect Market for Mercedes and Renault but for some reason it doesn’t catch on. I have no idea how well known Cricket is around the world (hey I’m Belgian, we care about soccer and… Voleyball) but even I can see from a distance you can’t beat that in India and I guess that is what kills it completly off.

    The racetrack itself is fine but again it seems to lose itself in a massive concrete jungle, you need to bring F1 closer to the fans, in a safe way off course. Watch the race and the cameras are so far away when fully zoomed the cars still seems kinda small.

    F1 in India, it’s over, NEXT!

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