The Buddh International Circuit held three very exciting Formula 1 races, but never again despite having positive feedback from all the drivers and the teams.
Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, everything about it is large and standard to specifications by the FIA-Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or the International Automobile Federation which is the governing body for the sport. Formula 1 is a tricky sport to say the least, and for a track or country to host one is a great honour not just for the spectators but because of the huge amount of revenue and job creation the sport brings along. In India the dream came true on 30th of October 2011 when the Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida hosted the countries first Formula 1 gig, with Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull taking the win, he secured the win in 2012 and 2013 as well on his way to 4 consecutive championships.
But then FIA announced that it would not be returning to India, despite a contract with Jaypee Group to host races for five years. So what brought about the rise and fall of the first F1 grade track in India? Multiple reasons. Quality of the track, Drivers review of the Track, Location of the track, services and equipment available at the track and other reasons which include commercial politics of Jaypee and Tax issues with the Uttar Pradesh Government which ultimately resulted in the Race Track being sealed off by the authorities.
Let’s start at the beginning, in the 2000s the Indian Olympic Association which is responsible for the upkeep and development of sports reached out to the Formula One Group which was at the time headed by Bernie Ecclestone. After much debate among the Indian authorities and tentatively choosing venues like Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai, they arrived at the site near Greater Noida. It is important to note here that, the entirety of the project was funded privately and the State or the Central Government did not give any monetary support for the cause.
The Buddh International Circuit is part of the Jaypee Greens Sports City, which has planned to include a cricket stadium and other big sporting facilities-none of which have been completed yet. German Track designing veteran Hermann Tilke is responsible for the track, which is 5.13 kilometers long. Earlier proposed to host the 2010 Grand Prix, delay in construction pushed it back to 2011, and after thousands of workers toiled day and night the Track was ready just two weeks before the inaugural Grand Prix in 2011. Now despite the fan following that it got, and the eventful world-class facilities were put to the test, the race was rather uneventful and devoid of overtaking-something that the teams and drivers complained about.
The BIC held two more Formula 1 races after this, in 2012 and 2013, both of which were taken home by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. But in 2014 the Indian Grand Prix could not take place, this was in part due to Jaypee Group’s insistence that the race be held in October-reason being a cooler weather, festive season leading to higher ticket sales, a short preparation time of only 6 months if the race were to be held in April 2014. As a result the Indian Grand Prix was dropped from the calendar with assurance for a return in 2015, which never happened as well but here the reason is different.
Greater Noida is situated in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and while it comes under the National Capital Region- governance is of the Uttar Pradesh Government. Interestingly, the UP Govt. took it upon their understanding that Motorsport is not a Sport, but rather a form of entertainment. Now sporting events are not taxed, expect for the tickets but UP Govt. decided to impose the Entertainment tax on each and every element involved with the Indian Grand Prix, and this involved the Organisers, the teams, and all the support staff. Customs duties were imposed on the cars, engines and the tyres, and Jaypee was not given any form of tax exemption that other sports organisers enjoy. As a result, Jaypee group which was to pay around $50 Million to Formula One World Championship as their fee, was in a fix.
A later ruling by The Honorable Supreme Court of India stated that every bit of income that comes via the Circuit is taxable and so is the Royalty payment to Formula 1. Jaypee could not pay, the declining ticket sales after the inaugural Grand Prix, and the expensive ticket prices coupled with the fact that motorsports is on its infant steps in India resulted in empty coffers. The Formula 1 World Championship at the time owned by Liberty Media also had to set aside a sum of $14 Million for tax payment out of the fees it received from Jaypee to the Indian Government. This resulted in the decision of Jaypee and Formula 1 to not host the Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit again. The land on which the Circuit stands, is leased from the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority and Jaypee owes them around INR 600 Crores.
Despite having a race in India being a costly affair and not a very profitable one, Bernie Ecclestone said “I’d like to go back to India really. That’s why we went there in the first place. I think it’s good for us and good for everybody.” in an interview. But there were other reasons that compounded the cancellation of the Indian Grand Prix.
Attendance- The inaugural race had a close to maxed out attendance at 95,000 while the capacity was at 110,000 which was quite a success, but in 2012 the attendance dropped sharply to just 65,000 which is almost half capacity. The 2014 grand prix had a similarly dismal attendance of fans. This can be attributed to various reasons, like the expensive ticket prices and the dearth of advertising and campaigning on the part of Formula 1 and its related companies.
Location- Generally a Formula 1 track should be easily accessible, it is true for the Buddh Circuit but it is situated a whopping 60 Kilometers from the Delhi International Airport, in a fairly undeveloped area. All the teams had to drive with several of their trucks and equipment through the traffic of New Delhi to Greater Noida, and the Yamuna Expressway being the sole road for access to the track it was jam packed with vehicles, the location also deterred many visitors from attempting to visit the Grand Prix. It is also plausible that holding the Grand Prix at a different location like New Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad would have saved it from the tax issues.
Lack of Government Support is also a massive reason, as mentioned earlier that the UP Government and later the Honourable Supreme Court put massive pressure on Jaypee, Formula 1 and the teams about taxes, while the sport as it is considered around the world should have got tax exemption for a short period of time until it became a successful venture, but shackling the organisers with the tax burden just increased the troubles for the Indian Grand Prix.
Advertisement- All the three Formula 1 Grand Prix held in India suffered from bad to almost non-existent advertising, even in cities like Delhi and Mumbai wherein the majority of the motorsport fans reside. The situation with this was so bad that websites were not set up, nor were interested people able to discern when the event was taking place. Social media was also devoid of any commotion regarding the event, while the Grand Prix held around the world are the talk of the whole nation, with celebrities and even the Air-Force giving Aerial salutes, the Indian GP didn’t get any.
A large number of reasons, mostly negative ones with Sebastian Vettel’s three wins being the highlights of the existence of the Buddh International Circuit caused the racetrack to be almost abandoned for many years, and today it is a derelict structure in need of a lot of repairs. There were other sporting events at the circuit like the Tata Prima Truck Racing and JK Tyre National Racing Championship which fizzled out after a few races.
Last year the Buddh International Circuit was sealed by Authorities due to the tax dispute, the 2000 Crore track turned to a car park because of a tax dispute. The World Class FIA approved race circuit now needs a massive investment to return it to its former glory, the teams loved the track, the driver loved it too, currently all it needs is a little push and support from the government. The fans of the sport are always ready to witness the screaming engines of the Formula 1 cars dash down the main straight.
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Excellent article covering all the aspects of the Buddha International Circuit right from its inception and baby steps in its infancy to its downfall