| Schumacher: Destination India'
Calcutta, July 21: Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone’s statement last week that he wants to host a grand prix in India in the not too distant future was not just so much hot air, activity to put a circuit in place suggests.
But it is now increasingly clear that the hoopla created back in 1999 by the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Bengal government and Grand Prix India Limited, a company partnered by an NRI, Calcutta-born Salim Anwer, to get top-class motor sport to Calcutta might have been so.
“There is always activity going on as far as Formula One is concerned, and in India some people have visited a couple of south Indian states to case out a possible location for a circuit,” said a well-connected motor sport source in India.
The main contenders, if at all Ecclestone wants the sports to come to the subcontinent, are Bangalore and Hyderabad.
“Hermann Tilke, among the best-known Formula One track designers, has been to both the cities and the International Automobile Federation (FIA) is in touch with someone in the Andhra government,” the source said.
About four years ago, Tilke had also visited Calcutta and looked at a location the government had earmarked in Rajarhat, on the eastern outskirts close to the airport.
Ecclestone said: “We will be having an F1 race in India, for sure. When and where it will be I cannot say.”
“India is moving forward very fast. After doing something in China, India is next.” Known as Mister F1, Ecclestone sounded confident of attracting sponsorship and said he would get to work on identifying the location for the circuit.
Southern states have nearly always been more nimble-footed — more, at least, than their eastern counterparts — in wooing such large investments as an international motor racing circuit will entail.
The latest in Turkey, where racing will start in two years, designed by Tilke, cost $150 million.
Karnataka tourism minister D.B. Inamdar, who met Tilke a few months ago, said the designer liked Bangalore’s temperate climate. Inamdar, sources in Bangalore said, has chosen a 1,200-acre site in Devanahalli on the city’s fringes.
The Motorsports Association of India president, Nazir Hoosein, said over phone from Mumbai that the idea was excellent. “We will always be supportive to get a grand prix to India, and if there is any sincere move at the government level, which is important, we will put all apprehensions behind and lend our wholehearted support,” Hoosein, an FIA governing body member, said.
Apprehensions run deep. As someone connected with Formula One commented: Monaco to Calcutta — or even Bangalore, let alone Devanahalli, or Hyderabad — does not quite sound like the next hot pit stop for Michael Schumacher.
“The question is how fast can you clear a Jumbo jet that will land carrying just one team’s cars and equipment. You have to do it very quickly and when the Jumbos do land, they will land a dozen at one time,” a motor sport source said.
Formula One racing, he said, is a “very fine mesh of very hectic activity”.
But getting formula racing to India means infrastructure not only for the teams and their personnel, but also the jet-setting band of rich fans and celebrities that follows the sport around the globe. “We are talking in terms of 6,000 hotel rooms and enough entertainment for the glitterati that comes to the races,” the source said.
Eccelstone has put China on the F1 map with the first grand prix taking place in Shanghai next year. Next season will see the first race in West Asia, too, in Bahrain. These two Asian countries join Japan and Malayasia at the cost of Belgium and Austria on the circuit.