Indian FI Grand Prix faces axe in 2014?
Political and financial issues could threaten 2014's Indian and South Korean grand prix, as Formula One paymaster Bernie Ecclestone looks to add new races in the United States, Russia and Austria.
The Indian Grand Prix could be dropped from the next year's Formula One roster, putting a premature end to India's controversial foray into the world of high speed cars.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone said that India is likely to lose its place on the 2014 F1 calendar as he intends to limit the number of races to 20.
"Is India going to happen next year? Probably not," Ecclestone was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency in Budapest where the Hungarian Grand Prix concluded on Sunday.
Asked about the reason, the 82-year-old Ecclestone replied: "Very political."
Ecclestone expressed doubts about both India and South Korea hosting races in 2014 at a confidential briefing for team principals in the paddock during last weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix.
"I'm juggling a lot of balls," he reportedly said.
Formula One is looking to add up to three races to its calendar in 2014 with Black Sea resort and Winter Olympics' host city Sochi set to become the first Russian venue on the circuit.
There is a return to Austria where Spielberg will host a race while New Jersey in the United States is also set to be on the calendar.
South Korea is seen as a logical move to be left off the list, as the Yeongam circuit south of Seoul has lost money since it first hosted Formula One in 2010, and local authorities are unwilling to cover losses.
India first staged F1 in 2011 at a privately financed circuit at Greater Noida near the capital, New Delhi, but has struggled to find a widespread following.
The Indian government, meanwhile, is keen on taxing drivers during their time in the country as a proportion of their earnings rather than profit.
Ecclestone is said to have agreed to pay a flat-rate sum for this year's race to meet government demands but is seen as unlikely to comply in 2014 given the other candidates to host races.
The fate of India hosting the 2014 F1 GP will now be decided in the World Motorsport Council meeting in September where Ecclestone is expected to present the provisional 2014 calendar to the governing International Automobile Federation.
India hosted its controversy-marred first Grand Prix in 2011 amidst raving reviews from the F1 community about the 5.14 kilometre-long Buddh International Circuit (BIC), clean paddock and facilities.
This year, the third edition of the race is scheduled for October 27 at Greater Noida as the 16th round of the 19-race championship. But with Russia, New Jersey and Austria now shortlisted as additions, there are 22 venues vying for a place on the F1 calendar with teams expressing a preference for a maximum of 20 races.
It is believed that tough taxation rules in India, event's financial viability and bureaucratic hurdles might have prompted Ecclestone to come up with such a statement.
Only last month, race promoters Jaypee Sports International (JPSI) had issued a statement responding to rumours that the race could be axed from 2014.
“Some international news organisations are trying to spread rumours that JPSI may not host 2014 Indian GP. This is totally baseless and malicious. Our agreement with Formula One Management is to hold F1 races at Buddh International Circuit (BIC) till 2015, and we are fully committed to do that," the JPSI statement read.
However, the current development has left the Indian race organisers in a spot of bother as they look to open a back-channel talk with the F1 supremo ahead of the World Motorsport Council meeting in September.
"We are looking to hold talks with Ecclestone as to what prompted him to make such a statement. There is a possibility that some amendments could be worked out in the current contract to keep our place in the F1 calendar," a JPSI spokesperson told PTI.
"Everything depends on the September meeting where the provisional 2014 calendar will be drawn up. The drivers want a maximum of 20 races and with the likely addition of three new venues, everything rest in the hands of Ecclestone," said the official.
The spokesperson also did not rule out the possibility of Ecclestone speaking with JPSI MD and CEO, Sameer Gaur over the issue ahead of the Hungarian GP.
"There is a possibility...look team bosses met with Ecclestone during the Hungarian GP this weekend and this could be one issue discussed over there," the spokesperson said adding that they would soon come up with an official statement.
"We all need to wait and watch. We would be soon issuing a statement." Red Bull's triple world champion Sebastian Vettel had won both races to date in India.