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It is 62 years since the first Formula One race took place but there is little doubt that the sport is still learning. After a five year absence F1 has just returned to the United States and as Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt recently reported, a junior series is being planned in the country to promote the sport and get American drivers into it. However, America is far from the only focus of growth and a report by Sylt in India's Deccan Chronicle has revealed that F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone has been in talks about hosting a second Indian Grand Prix to improve the sport's chances of gaining a foothold in such a large country.
India's population of 1.2bn makes it the world's second largest country by population after China. However, whilst China's interest in F1 has not run much deeper than its Grand Prix, India had fielded two drivers and a team before it even had a race. The Indian Grand Prix is only in its second year and, like many new races, it has seen declining attendance. However, ironically, its fortunes could be boosted by there being another race in the country.
This is because India's size is one of the hurdles to increasing crowd numbers at the Grand Prix. If more people become interested in F1 it is more likely that crowd numbers at races in the country will increase. The best way to increase interest in F1 in a country as big as India is by having multiple Grands Prix and by the same token, Ecclestone recently said he wants at least three races in the US.
Likewise, companies in completely different industries often use several flagships to drive awareness when entering India or China for the first time. Disney for example usually uses its television channel as a trojan horse to spread the word about its characters when moving into new markets. However this is not possible in China due to tight restrictions on media ownership so instead it first opened a theme park in Hong Kong in 2005. It has not been wildly successful but nevertheless, in 2015 it will open a second park in Shanghai. The country is so big that there will be little overlap in the markets and in fact, together the two parks will do a better job of promoting Disney than one. F1 and India is no different.
Last month Ecclestone admitted that a second race in India is a possibility. He has now revealed that "there's one or two places I have had a word with which could work." However, Ecclestone adds that a second race will only get the green light if attendance at the first race does not continue to decline.
Ecclestone does not say where a second race would be located although he confirms that he has not discussed it taking place in Mumbai. The city was one of several locations considered for the Indian Grand Prix along with Bangalore, Hyderabad, the Gurgaon district in the state of Haryana and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh.
In September 2007 it was announced that Greater Noida near New Delhi had won the right to hold the race on a 3.2 mile circuit and the inaugural Indian Grand Prix took place there last year. "Let's see what happens there and if it continues in a good way let's get on with it," says Ecclestone.
Last year the Indian Grand Prix was a sell-out with 95,000 spectators on race day but this year the crowd fell by 30,000. The reason that it is common for attendance to decline in the second year is that the novelty factor of the event wears off. The real staying power can only be measured after more time has passed and Ecclestone says that new races take "five or six years" to bed in.
From next year no country is scheduled to host two F1 races. Since 2008 Grands Prix have taken place every year in Barcelona and Valencia but they will rotate annually from 2013 due to poor attendance at the latter venue. Germany hosted two races annually at the Hockenheimring and Nürburgring until 2006 and then also rotated the German Grand Prix between the two venues following a slump in ticket sales.
The second race in both countries was driven by the success of local drivers: Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. There are no local drivers on the horizon who are likely to boost interest in F1 in India. Currently, Narain Karthikeyan is the only Indian driver in F1 and Ecclestone says it will take more than multiple races to change that.
"Getting more Indian drivers takes the Indian public to get behind Formula One and what do you do then? It costs a lot of money to be a driver. It is easier to be a cricketer or footballer," says Ecclestone. His solution is that "it needs to start with karting. You need to build up a good infrastructure for karting. But in India how many tracks would you need?" It is a very good question.
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