Indian Grand Prix Business Diary: smog, Bernie’s birthday and no politics at Ferrari

The second Indian Grand Prix featured a smaller crowd than last year, the celebrations for Bernie Ecclestone's 82nd birthday, a naval tribute from Ferrari and several new Indian brands.

Despite television pictures of the event looking as if they had been filmed by Instagram on a smog-filter there was no doubt that the Buddh International Circuit, located on the outskirts of sprawling Delhi, looked far more polished in 2012 than it was for its debut race a year ago. The spruce-up, however, was experienced by far fewer than in 2011.

According to Indian motorsport chief Vicky Chandhok Sunday’s crowd was around 61,000 compared with some 94,000 last year, a sign that the novelty of last year has worn off and that the hard work of bedding in Formula One in India must now begin. Mark Gallagher, the experienced Formula One marketer, believes the answer is in developing a national motorsport structure that will create local stars.

Gallagher told SportsPro: “India needs a superstar and if India, like China, can find a superstar driver who is driving for a top five team, with the genuine potential to win Grands Prix, they’ll be packed to the rafters and the sport will really take off.

“India has the potential to do that. It’s a huge country of car-mad people, they love their sport, the media gets behind heroes very quickly.”

Gallagher added: “That is achievable within three to five years, but they need to get on with it.” 

No birthday surprise
Many happy returns to Bernie Ecclestone, 82 on Sunday. The Formula One chief executive spent his special weekend in Delhi discussing the matters of moment in the sport.

He likes the idea of a budget cap – although somewhat at odds with the spirit of the Formula One cost-cutting initiative Ecclestone’s cap would be a rather extravagant US$250 million in 2014 – but is, predictably enough, not so keen on retirement.

Faced with reports that CVC, Formula One’s majority shareholder, is beginning the search for a successor – a fundamental element of a prospectus outlining Formula One’s planned IPO – Ecclestone did concede that “eventually I’m going to go, one way or another”.

He quickly added: “But as long as I feel I can deliver, and the shareholders are happy for this to happen, I will stay. When I can’t I’ll give them plenty of notice.”
 
Merely an apolitical tribute….
Fernando Alonso’s quite brilliant drive to the gutsiest of second places on Sunday not only kept Ferrari in the world championship battle with three races to go, it also provided happier headlines for the Italian team than those in the days preceding the race.

Both Ferraris carried the Italian naval flag prominently on their noses for the whole weekend, in what was seen as a highly political statement following murder charges brought against two Italian sailors following the death of two Indian fisherman in February. Sport and politics, we are often told, should never mix and the regulations of world motorsport’s governing body say much the same.

Ferrari insisted that the flag was nothing more than ‘a tribute to one of our country’s outstanding institutions’, an explanation that was seemingly accepted by Indian motor sport authorities.

But given the US$5 million fine organisers of the Turkish Grand Prix received from the FIA in 2006 after allowing the ‘president of the Northern Turkish Republic of Cyprus’, an unrecognised country by anyone other than Turkey, to present a trophy, Ferrari can consider themselves fortunate to have escaped similar censure.


Notes from the sponsorship world
McLaren’s wide-ranging tie-up with GlaxoSmithKline saw another new brand appear on the team’s rear wing in India. After Lucozade and Maximuscle earlier in the season, GSK’s Boost brand took pride of place this time. Boost is, apparently, an Indian chocolate-flavoured health drink.

It was a rare instance of an Indian consumer brand appearing in Formula One but not a unique one at the Buddh International Circuit: Tata Tea’s colourful logos adorned the rear wing end plates of both HRT cars, while Mercedes teamed up with the title sponsor of the race, Airtel, for a series of special promotions over race weekend.

There was also one other sponsorship tweak to note, with another of Carlos Slim’s myriad central and south American brands popping up on the Sauber. Red Minetti, an Argentinean construction retailer, is the latest to appear, replacing construction material franchise company Disensa on the drivers’ headrests for the Indian Grand Prix and the final three races of the year in Abu Dhabi, Austin and Sao Paulo.

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