Adrian Sutil, Force India, Buddh International Circuit, 2013

F1 still struggling to gain a foothold in India

From the standsPosted on | Author Abhishek Roy

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.

From the stands

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Images ?? Force India, Red Bull

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

  1. Not only the fans, the Indian media had little knowledge about F1.

    I attended the Indian Grand Prix as an accredited journalist and was accompanied by a lot of Indian journalists from newspapers and magazines. Majority of them were general sports journalist who had little knowledge about F1. They asked some of the silliest questions from drivers. One asked Jenson Button whether McLaren had started development on their 2014 car. When Jenson Button replied with a smile, ”we have started development on the 2018 car as well”, the journalist further asked ”do you think that’s the reason(starting development of next year’s car early) you are having a troubled 2013 season?”

    However, at the same time, some Indians, particularly in the official press conferences, asked really sophisticated questions from drivers and the team principals.

    As an Indian, I really want the Grand Prix to return on the calendar in 2015, but it will take time to make a mark in a country dominated by cricket. Lets see. I have my fingers crossed.

  2. Ten years ago when Schumi dominated everything the grandstands were still full At the Nurburgring, German flags waving everywhere, smoke grenades going off and there seemed to be a real passion for the sport. I know it’s a World Championship but really, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi ?

    1. @dave

      Ten years ago when Schumi dominated everything the grandstands were still full At the Nurburgring, German flags waving everywhere

      I agree with the point you are making across , but hey
      MSC=German . So why should we be surprised. Wouldn’t you support your countryman who wins everything in a rocketship in the pinnacle of racing if you had the chance ?

  3. there are many reasons for this but main 2reasons are
    1.ticket prices are very high, let me tell u that lowest ticket price which is rs 2000 itself is pretty costly for an Indian middle class family, we can only dream about grand stand tickets
    2.It is stupidly placed in north India, South India would have been a far better location, even Mumbai would have been better location cos its at about equal distance from south and north Indian cities. Even if I somehow arrange for ticket money,it is 30 hours one way journey from my city(via train) and I don’t even live in South India. It’s too much travelling.

  4. It’s very simple why the race hasn’t succeeded in India, there’s no Indian driver!
    In mature markets outside Europe (Canada, Australia, Japan, Brasil, Mexico) there doesn’t need to be an F1 driver to have a full house, but in India and in other Asian countries they tried to grow interest by having a race first, which only happens once a year, while a driver will make people follow all 20 races of the season.

  5. The problems with the poor attendance at the Indian Grand Prix are manifold and not just one. First of all, it is not that India is alien to motorsports; it is that South India was & is the hub of motorsports in India. Racing and motorsports in India date back to 1960’s when there used to be races conducted on an erstwhile WW-II air strip at Sholavaram near Chennai (earlier known as Madras) until the Madras Motor Sports Club (MMSC) purpose built a race track at Irungattukottai again near Chennai. And there is another permanent race track in Coimbatore by name Kari Motor Speedway. It’s a shame that these circuits could not be upgraded to Formula 1 level or a new F1 level track built somewhere near these locations including Bangalore which is not far from either of the locations.

    Formula One or for that matter any motorsports does not command a huge amount of audience in this cricket crazy nation which does not pay adequate attention to its national game viz. Hockey. But, India is not a cricket fortress as such to be not able to be penetrated by any other sport. The problem is with the awareness and marketing. Bernie, FOM and the event organizers as well as the 20th Century Fox owned Star Sports group should have ensured decent effort to capture the attention and viewership of the Indian public not just for the Indian GP but for the Formula One itself. Creating a large audience base is the key to establishing F1 in India. It wouldn’t have hurt to find much advertisement for F1 on the official broadcaster’s channels (20th Century Fox owned STAR group) in India.

    The price for the F1 tickets may be quite high compared to that of Cricket matches; but that is not the sole reason for mediocre response from the public. There are millions of people in India who could & would spend that much money on a single weekend. But, their attention has not been properly captured towards motorsports and F1. This is a collective failure of the motorsports associations, the Buddh International Circuit and Telecasting rights holder STAR group.

    And then there is the lack of support races for the F1 weekend in India. Even currently most of the motorsports events in India happen either at Irungattukottai Race Track or at Kari Motor Speedway only. F1 could fare much better with an Asian version of GP2, GP3 etc. as support races.

    But, overall though the Indian audience are crazy audience(you could understand what I mean if you have watched a cricket match played in India featuring India and a team like Australia, England, Pakistan or New Zealand), you must credit them for being sensible than most of the much hyped European audience. I mean did you hear a ‘boo’ for any driver at the Indian GP let alone Vettel? Proper advertising and campaigning could do a lot wonders to capture the crazy Indian audience towards F1; but are the stakeholders (including Bernie, FOM, FIA, BIC etc.) willing to do that?

    1. Precisely. imagine a street circuit in Chennai. along the Marina Beach. it wold have been spectacular.

    2. @seahorse +1 .Great points and comments . Covered everything there comprehensively.
      Even as Ted Kravitz dished out a veiled compliment in sky saying India is a country of colours and passion and does not fit into the precision world of f1 , I was seething with rage . It is not that Indians don’t understand f1 , It’s that Indian’s are not familiar enough with f1 and don’t have people to cheer for.

  6. Once again, a race is thrown into jeopardy by mismanagement by the organisers. Governments support races for the prestige associated with them, but that’s as far as the support goes. Promoters, however, don’t seem to be able to grasp the idea that they need to educate and inform people about Formula 1. They seem to have taken the old adage of “if you build it, they will come” a little too literally.

  7. the very basic thing is that INDIANS get behind the sport or an individual if they are winning on a consistent basis… is so rich and popular because we win consistently and are currently no. 1 in the rankings.

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