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Racing boss aims to bring F1 to India

By Parmy Olson and Ruth David, Forbes
November 16, 2006 09:39 IST
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Bernie Ecclestone, the British chief executive of Formula One Racing, is close to striking a deal with a regional government in India to build a racing circuit there, according to a published report.

The bespectacled billionaire said he had found the ideal locale and that it would be three years before work on a new track was completed.

News of Ecclestone's India plans had started doing the rounds in 2003, and they seem sensible. Motor racing is one of the most popular sports among urban audiences after cricket, said Nazir Hoosein, the president of the Motorsports Association of India. Clubs and pubs in cities often screen racing events.

Hoosein added that while Indian cities like Mumbai and Hyderabad may have had space on the outskirts for a track, problem lay in arranging the infrastructure. A Formula One event would involve gigantic amounts of equipment coming into the country in a short span of time, and most airports would be ill-equipped to deal with that.

But Hoosein was optimistic about Ecclestone's 2010 timeline. "Building a circuit is not a problem," he told "We have civil engineers capable of this sort of expertise. And China did it in a year-and-a-half, so maybe India can do it in three years,

but there has to be a will to it."

Ecclestone had said last year that India would "definitely" have a Formula One Grand Prix race "within three years."

"It's just a case of where," he had told the BBC, adding that it would "probably end up" in Mumbai, though there had also been rumors of a track in Calcutta or Hyderabad.

Ecclestone, who built Formula One into a worldwide money machine, used to own 25% of the racing company. A bank consortium held the rest. But following conflicts with the partners over several years, the banks sold their holdings to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners last March, and Ecclestone also divested an undisclosed stake.

The racing tycoon seems to have recently had his eye on Asia as a lucrative source for F1's expansion, with plans to hold a race in South Korea in 2010 and a Japanese Grand Prix next year.

India's only claim to F1 fame is driver Narain Karthikeyan. He could play an important role in establishing a fan base for F1 in India, which could in turn be the key to keeping sponsors on side and the money rolling in.

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Parmy Olson and Ruth David, Forbes

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