While a site in Salt Lake City, Kolkata was initially the candidate for the GP to be held, it did not materialise due to lack of solid financial backing. Then the focus shifted to Andhra Pradesh... The inside story on how Formula 1 racing came to India.

The thought that India would host a Formula One race GP was impossible two decades ago. Now we are less than a week away from the biggest sporting event that our country has ever hosted. It is no secret that I come from a motorsport family with my father, son and myself all having been racing and rallying drivers at some stage of our lives. This is truly a momentous occasion for us and is the culmination of a decade's efforts for many motorsport enthusiasts in the country. After all the hard work and many years of ups and downs, it is great to see the Indian GP actually becoming a reality.

Formula One boss Bernie Eccelstone had always expressed his desire to have India host a round of the F1 World Championship but at that time nothing much was thought of it. However, as the years went by, it was easy to see that Bernie was really serious about his interest to bring Formula 1 to India. Well…deciding that India should host an F1 race was the easy part!

While a site in Salt Lake City, Kolkata was initially the candidate for the GP to be held, it did not materialise due to lack of solid financial backing. Then the focus shifted to Andhra Pradesh, where the then-CM Chandrababu Naidu was keen to put Hyderabad on the world map, knowing F1 was the perfect platform to do so. However, the plans soon folded up when Naidu lost the elections and with that Hyderabad lost any hope of bringing the race to India.

The focus then shifted to Chennai because of the influence it's had on motorsport in our country but the price of land made it prohibitive to expand on the existing facilities.

So near yet so far

Vijay Mallya and I then started working closely to see if we could find a way to bring it to India. Vijay organised meetings with Sunil Dutt (the Sports Minister at the time), Delhi CM Sheila Dixit and a few others who supported the idea that would inevitably showcase Delhi as one of the world's premier cities as well. Unfortunately, when the cost and logistics of putting up temporary barriers, FIA debris fencing and temporary paddock facilities came into the equation, Delhi joined the list of cities that were so near yet so far.

It was time to go back to the drawing board as Bengaluru soon emerged on the scene through the promises of serious investments from private backers. Bernie liked Bengaluru as a destination and that was certain! However Bengaluru as a possible venue was aborted after meetings, meetings and more meetings! The various instances certainly left a hollow feeling within a few of us who had put hours, days and months into trying to make Formula 1-India a reality!

When we had almost given up hope, the Gaur family, with interests in hydro power, cement, real estate, and infrastructure and of course Golf courses were on their way to building not just a sports complex, but the Jaypee Sports City, which would be the pinnacle of all the sports facilities in the country. This is a one of a kind integrated sports complex housing world class facilities for Golf, Basketball, Tennis, Swimming, Table Tennis, Badminton and all that was left was to bring an F1 circuit to its fold.

Turning point

A few JPSI senior officials visited Chennai claiming to have plans of building India's F1 circuit which was initially met with cynicism, given the track record over the previous decade. Shri Jayprakash Gaur, the patriarch of the Jaypee Group, his sons, and the entire management put all scepticism to rest soon enough with their committed outlook from our first meeting. The appointed captain of the ship was a 40-year-old youngster, Sameer Gaur. His vision to take the project forward and make it a flagship of the Jaypee Group instantly made me vibe ever so well with him and the family.

Talks with Bernie too were very successful and chances of F1 coming to India were soon looking very strong. It finally seemed like we had the perfect backer to make this all happen. Arguably the finest F1 architect, Hermann Tilke was soon appointed and had the arduous task of moving and compacting 4.3 million cubic metres of earth, thus creating elevations and giving the circuit its own unique spot on the Formula 1 calendar. The 5.14 km circuit with 12 metres of elevation changes was finally designed with a 1.2 km straight to truly showcase the raw speed of Formula 1 machines to our Indian public.

The enormity of the task slowly became apparent! FIA debris fences were being imported, astro turf, U-drains, special electronics, safety barriers and the like were being flown in but not once did the Jaypee Group compromise on quality. Legendary delays in our “system” started to take its toll on many administrative issues. Unlike cricket that has audiences only in pockets around the world, here is a sport that is providing India the opportunity to cement itself on the world sporting map, with no cost to the Government whatsoever!

Realising a dream

Eighteen other countries globally cope with the various ‘pressures' of bringing an event of this scale to their shores and this is the opportunity for us to step up and deliver on our dream of being not a developing, but a developed nation! It's not just the stakeholders of the sport but the Government that need to exploit this global platform to promote India. With a global audience of 527 million viewers in 2010, 16, 000 hours of coverage in 187 countries, I don't think anybody can argue with the brand equity that is Formula 1.

From putting together a team of over 1,000 volunteers to assisting the Jaypee Group with advice whenever sought, I have to say that while sleep has definitely become a luxury, it has certainly been an honour to be a part of the herculean task of bringing Formula 1 to our country.


Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012