Indian Grand Prix on track but publicity booster is missing

Bernie Ecclestone allays fears but the only concern for F1 chief is lack of effort to make it popular in the cricket-crazy nation.
On August 3, a lot of construction work was still going on at the Budh International Circuit in Greater Noida.
On August 3, a lot of construction work was still going on at the Budh International Circuit in Greater Noida.

NEW DELHI // India is on course to hold its first Formula One race in October, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said yesterday, but he cautioned that organisers will have to work hard to generate interest in a country where cricket is the dominant sport.

The Indian Grand Prix will be held at the US$350 million (Dh1.3bn) Budh International Circuit in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, on October 30.

The 5.14km circuit, designed by renowned German architect Hermann Tilke, who also designed the Yas Marina circuit, is still under-construction, but Ecclestone said it would be ready for the race.

"It will be one of the nicest circuits and will be completed in time," Ecclestone said. "People are working hard and checking everything on a daily basis. It will be in good shape."

He warned organisers though to step up efforts to make the sport popular in India.

"F1 is new to India," he said. "It would take efforts to generate interest. We will never catch cricket, but we can get close to it ... perhaps with some extra effort.

"India is a major part of the world and we wanted a championship race here. When I came here, I was pleased with what I saw. Things will be fine. In the end, we will do good things for India."

Formula One has been followed closely in India since 2005 when the Indian driver, Narain Karthikeyan, raced for the now-defunct Jordan team.

Karthikeyan returned to the circuit in 2011 following a deal with the Spanish Hispania racing team. Also yesterday, F1 announced that the telecom company, Airtel, would be the title sponsor of the race.

Sanjay Kapoor, an Airtel official, said his company was delighted to be associated with the event but declined to reveal how much was paid for the title sponsorship.

"Such events do not come cheap," Kapoor said. "We see value in this investment. F1 is a sport and Airtel is a brand. Both resonate well in the contemporary markets."

Kapoor refused to comment on whether Airtel had pulled out of the title sponsorship of the Champions League Twenty20 cricket event to join the F1 bandwagon.

"You take decisions keeping in mind the brand," he said. "We keep balancing the portfolios."

Airtel ended a $40m three-year deal with the Champions League after just two years, earlier this month, which Indian media said was due to a lack of interest in the multi-nation club tournament.

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Published: August 19, 2011 04:00 AM


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