There were no stray dogs on tracks and the dust had settled unlike the last time. There were 6,000 more parking slots and the party from the Buddh International Circuit spilled over to the nearby F1 Rocks Concert, promising a day to remember for the spectators. The cherry on the top was the relentless Fernando Alonso of Ferrari who ended second after starting fifth at the grid and almost stole the limelight away from second-time winner Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.
Even as Formula 1 boss and birthday boy Bernie Ecclestone and Sameer Gaur, chief executive officer of Jaypee Sports International – which is the licensee of the event in India – will take heart in these positives from the 2012 edition of Indian Grand Prix, they would be equally bothered by the half empty stands (except for the grandstand) that were a sore sight in the otherwise hyped event.
Ecclestone, who turned 82 on Sunday had a reasonable explanation to give. “The first time the excitement is always high, second it goes down. Third year is what is important as there is something to worry if the interest keeps on falling. And we have stiff competition from cricket,” IANS reported him saying at the Circuit paddock.
And that would surely worry Gaur, whose men claimed till Saturday that 85 per cent of the tickets have been sold. As I write, the final ticket sales have not been announced by the organizer, but the visibly lower turnout has already pushed back Gaur’s financial plans. He expects the Indian edition of the Grand Prix to now break even in five years, instead of the three he had announced last year. His men estimate that even a sale of 60,000 in the 2012 edition would be a “good show” compared to last year’s overflowing stands that can hold 1lakh spectators.
Gaur spent $400 million to build the Buddh International Circuit, or BIC and pays $40 million to Ecclestone every year as license fee. BIC itself is the central piece to his grand plans for Noida and Greater Noida, around which his Jaypee Group owns about 6,000 acres. Two months earlier, the Yamuna Expressway, also built by the Group and along which the BIC is located, was opened, almost halving travel time from Delhi to Agra. These milestones were significant for Gaur as the change in political fortunes (Akhilesh Yadav became the Chief Minister, replacing Mayawati, said to be close to the Gaur family) prompted many to foretell troubled times for the Group.
Gaur, who says he spent 50 per cent less this year to organize the event, will be now hoping that the improvements in the 2012 edition will help attract a bigger crowd in the third year. Moreover, he is also bringing in more events to ensure that BIC generates revenues rest of the year too. While last year, he raked in Rs 20 crore from events, he is hoping to increase it next year by adding the World Super Bike in 2013.
Ecclestone, who might be soon negotiating with Gaur on the license fee, also would be hoping the same at a time when most of the Formula 1 teams are struggling to make money amidst hardened economic climate. To make matter worse, there were empty seats even in “F1 fanatic” nations like Germany earlier this year. His decision to bring F1 to new markets in India and China was seen as a move to bring in more spectators, more sponsors and more money. Come 2013, both the men would be keeping their fingers crossed.