27th October 2013 - India's motorsports fans at home are soaking it all in - 'Sebastian Vettel wins the Indian Grand Prix!'
The Indian motorsports community is euphoric. Sebastian Vettel has just won the Indian Grand Prix for a record-extending third time and has just sealed his fourth Formula 1 Drivers' Championship. Many deem it to be a stepping-stone moment for motorsports in India.
And then... it all went down.
Formula 1 and it's tumultuous relationship with India
The FIA and the Indian authorities had been planning to race in India since early 1997. As things stood, Chennai and Coimbatore were in "pole position" to seal the deal with the authorities as these were the only two Indian cities with a permanent race circuit. Cities and state governments were prepared to fight out to the extent that the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Shri.
Chandrababu Naidu reserved 1500 acres of land to construct a raceway near the Hyderabad Airport. In December 2003, a seven-year agreementwas signed to host the Indian Grand Prix near the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Due to a change in government policies, the race project in Hyderabad never took off.
By 2007, four locations remained in the running to host the maiden Indian Grand Prix viz. Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore, and Lucknow.
Following months of negotiations between Bernie Ecclestone, former Chief Executive of the Formula Group, and the Indian authorities, it was revealed that Grand Prix racing in India will make its debut at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida in 2011.
The 5.125 km circuit designed by German architect Hermann Tilke received positive feedback from the teams and the drivers. The race coinciding with the Diwali period in India meant a boost in economic consumption, meant an uptick in economic prospects which the F1 remained confident about.
However, in 2014 three years after India hosted its first-ever Grand Prix, the FIA and the Indian government were embroiled in a tax dispute. The government of Uttar Pradesh, led by the then Chief Minister Shri. Akhilesh Yadav stated that 'Formula 1 is not a sport but entertainment', and then proceeded to levy taxes on the event.
Following the debacle, the Indian Grand Prix was cancelled. Formula 1 hasn't raced in India since.
Hyderabad ePrix and the resurgence of motorsports
As part of the 2022-23 season, Formula E is set to race in India. The single-seater, electric-powered Formula E race was held in Hyderabad and was the first time that India hosted an ePrix.
Since the cancellation of the Indian Grand Prix almost a decade ago, this was the first time that the FIA decided to host a World Championship series within the subcontinent.
The maiden Hyderabad ePrix was won by French driver Jean-Éric Vergne with Envision Racing's driver Nick Cassidy and 2019-20 Formula E Drivers' Champion António Félix da Costa completing the podium.
"A new hope"
The Bridge connected with a few Indian motorsports fans to gauge what it meant to the biggest stakeholder in the sport - the fans!
Hailing from Delhi, Atul Kumar Maurya considers himself to be one of the biggest motorsports fan in the country. For him, seeing the Formula E cars take to the streets of Hyderabad feels like a dream come true. He said:
"Motorsports in India somewhat felt like a dream back in 2011-13 with F1 but with both Formula E and MotoGP entering the country, the dream has now changed to reality. This is a new hope for the fans of motorsports in the country."
Just like Formula E, MotoGP, the premier class of motorcycle road racing, will make its India debut in 2023. The Grand Prix of Bharat will take place at the Buddh International Circuit, the same circuit where the Formula 1 race-cars roared past almost a decade ago. The Grand Prix is scheduled to take place between 22nd-24th September 2023.
Aniket Chopra, an engineer settled in Hyderabad has been following Formula E since its inception in 2014. She is an avid motorsports enthusiast and a huge supporter of the McLaren racing outfit across motorsports. Speaking to The Bridge, she said-
"Formula E is the future of motor racing. Given how all big corporations are now focussing on carbon emissions and sustainability, it's only a matter of time that this class (Formula E) of racing comes into the limelight just like Formula One."
The fans of motorsports in India would be wishing that the Hyderabad ePrix and the Grand Prix of Bharat races are a huge success in the eyes of the race promoters and the FIA, in the hope that the two races are added as regulars in the race calendars of both Formula E and MotoGP.
India being a true economic and cultural powerhouse in the world, with a population of over 1.4 billion people, it would be difficult for Formula One to ignore such a potentially huge market for motorsports and it may just be a matter of time before the Indian Grand Prix returns to the Formula One race calendar.