Buddh International Circuit, India’s premier motorsports facility recently got struck by a huge announcement. Authorities sealed the whole facility on the account of pending payments. This was apparently a long time coming due to the dire financial situation of the organisation responsible for the BIC.
So, what exactly happened? What led to this prestigious facility’s fallout? Today we revisit the inception of India’s first Formula 1 track, all the events which took place there, what makes it such a significant piece of architecture and finally what led to its downfall and what does the future seems like for the Buddh International Circuit.
The Idea for the Indian Grand Prix
Motorsports is not a particularly influential type of sport in India. Despite having its fair share of motorsports legacy majorly in the form of rally racing, We are taking into account a time when India was yet to discover its potential in developing infrastructure for track racing.
Formula One, being the numero uno of auto racing whose stage is the whole world had a strong fanbase in India as well. A dedicated F1 fanbase has been there in India much prior to when we first saw an Indian man on the F1 grid and even before hosting a Grand Prix in India was even considered.
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Realising this potential, The Idea to host the first-ever Formula One world championship race in India started to make the rounds. Plans started to stir up in 1997 when the idea of hosting the first Indian Grand Prix first came into consideration. From that point until when the debut of the Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit was officially announced in 2007, various other prospected locations and contracts came into existence.
In 2004, strong competition rose between the prospected locations at Hyderabad and Mumbai to host the Indian Grand Prix. Hyderabad authorities even signed a seven-year pre-agreement to host the event in Hyderabad. However, both the Hyderabad and Mumbai projects never saw the light of the day due to government policies and their disinterest in spending funds on motorsports.
Various other locations like Gurgaon, New Delhi and Lucknow were also considered for the hosting of the Indian Grand Prix. But none of them worked out and soon after the Indian conglomerate Jaypee Group came into the picture.
2007- The Foundation was laid for the Indian Grand Prix
The Indian Olympic Association and Bernie Ecclestone (the Chief Executive officer of the Formula One Group at that time) in June 2007, announced a provisional agreement to host the Indian Grand Prix in 2009 Season of Formula 1 and a location near Gurgaon was chosen.
However, in September 2007 it was further announced that the Indian Grand Prix will take place in the 2010 season of F1 and the stage for the event will be constructed at Greater Noida christened as the Buddh International Circuit. After the assessment of the anticipated timeframe required to construct and get the circuit up and running, Bernie Ecclestone finally announced 2011 as the year for the Indian Grand Prix.
Jaypee Sports International (JPSI) subsidiary of the Jaypee Group carried the baton of this ambitious project and the development of India’s first F1 Track went underway.
Development of the Buddh International Circuit Begins
Jaypee Group, a privately owned company took up a project which in other countries was usually taken up by governmental organisations having the capacity to work on such a humongous scale. So, taking the responsibility of delivering an International-spec motorsports facility in time for the event to take place was a bold decision by the Jaypee Group.
For this mission, the Jaypee Group brought in Hermann Tilke, the German architect and race track designer responsible for Tracks like the Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain and the Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi. The final design of the track was revealed by Tilke in November 2009. Indian racing legend and motorsports administrator Vicky Chandhok also supervised the construction of the track and acted as a consultant to the JPSI.
Designing the Buddh International Circuit
The Buddh International Circuit is a clockwise track having a length of 5.14 Kms spread over an area of 874 acres. The Track consists of 16 turns and has a maximum elevation of 14 meters. This design made the track the fastest one for the 2011 calendar. The track has a grandstand just opposite to the pit lane along with 10 other temporary stands capable of seating more than 1,10,000 spectators.
The whole facility consists of various buildings including the Pit Building which consists of 41 garages, a race control room and a VIP spectating gallery. The facility also consists of a Media Centre capable of hosting more than 600 media personnel and 18 team buildings for all the action on the race day. The construction cost for the whole project was US$280 million. The Buddh International Circuit has been awarded as the ‘2011 Motorsports Facility of the Year’ at the Professional Motorsports World Expo in 2011.
Construction work for the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) began in October 2009 and the Jaypee Group had a strict deadline to build the whole facility in 24 months for the race to take place in October 2011.
2011- Inauguration of the Buddh International Circuit
Powering through all the production delays, relentless rainfall, and many more obstacles, the Jaypee Group managed to bring the ambitious project of the Buddh International Circuit just in time for the Indian Grand Prix.
The Buddh International Circuit was inaugurated in October 2011, few days before the race weekend scheduled in the same month.
2011- The Indian Grand Prix happened
Finally, after all the proposals, bureaucratic and development challenges, the Indian Grand Prix was happening. The Track was all set to host the race day on 30th October 2011 and the practice and qualifying sessions preceding it.
Before the race weekend, the expected lap time was projected to be 1 minute 27.02 seconds for a Formula One car. Sebastian Vettel (driving for the Redbull-Renault team back then), set the fastest lap of 1 minute 24.178 seconds, beating the predicted lap time by the tyre manufacturer Pirelli.
Fun Fact: Minutes into the first practice session at the Buddh International Circuit, a stray dog came onto the track out of nowhere and the session was red-flagged.
Two cars of Force India, Indian racers Karun Chandhok and Narain Kartikeyan in the respective team cars were the first ones to set out on the track during the first practice session. Karun Chandhok became the first person to do a flying lap on the BIC. At the end of the Practice day, Sebastian Vettel in his Redbull came out as the fastest driver of the day.
The Qualifying day had a similar story. The track being new for all the drivers resulted in an immense amount of action, various upsets and numerous grid penalties. After all of this, Sebastian Vettel went to bag the pole position for the race on Sunday followed by Lewis Hamilton (Mclaren-Mercedes) on the second position and Mark Webber (Redbull-Renault) on the third position.
Sebastian Vettel became the first person to win the Indian Grand Prix. This victory also marks as his first Grand Chelem starting on pole position, setting the fastest lap and winning the race leading throughout the 60 lap race. Jenson Button (Mclaren-Mercedes) came second and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) finished in the third position at the Indian Grand Prix.
2012 and 2013 Indian Grand Prix followed
The Subsequent years saw the BIC host the 2012 and the 2013 Indian Grand Prix. Both the races won yet again by Sebastian Vettel in his Redbull. The 2013 Indian Grand Prix Victory is the one the most special races for the Seb as it was posting this victory that he was declared as the four-time world champion (also his last championship victory so far). This made him the fourth person to achieve this after the likes of Micheal Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio and Alain Prost.
The second and third position was taken by Fernando Alonso(Ferrari) and Mark Webber (Redbull-Renault) in 2012 and by Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) in 2013.
2014 & 2015 Indian Grand Prix gets called-off
2013 was the last year in which India hosted a Formula One Grand Prix. the 2014 Grand Prix was called off due to rescheduling and the 2015 Grand Prix also got cancelled due to contractual and taxation issues.
Why did India (and BIC) get shut-out from the F1 Calendar?
The Jaypee Group has incurred nothing but loses ever since the BIC became operational. Post the 2011 race, the footfall of the spectators fell down tremendously. The overall interests of the general public and also of the sponsors saw a rapid decline. This made it hard of the BIC facility to generate revenues and pay fees to the Formula One Group.
Further anchoring down the situation of the track was the Tax regulation system of the government. Apparently, Motorsport events are not considered as sporting events in our country and fall under the category of entertainment. Hence, such events are subjected to a huge amount of ‘entertainment tax’. Also, tax exemption offered to other sporting events was there for Formula One events. Heavy custom fees and insane paperwork for importing components by the team made the execution a troublesome task for the teams.
During the 2012 Indian Grand Prix, the media speculated that the complex customs paperwork cost Fernando Alonso the race as Ferrari wasn’t able to get crucial components for their car into India.
Under such circumstances, it became also impossible for the Jaypee Group to recover their investment of close to $450 million, pay fees to F1 and settle tax payments for the government.
Such a response for the sport in India made F1 authorities pull out the Indian Grand Prix off their calendar indefinitely.
Six-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton comments on F1 in India
Lewis Hamilton came second in the qualifying during the 2011 Indian Grand Prix. He praised the facility and compared it to the classic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
However, his recent statement on F1 in India came out rather controversial. The six-time champion said, “ it felt strange to drive past homeless people and then arrive at a huge arena where money was not a problem.” He said he felt conflicted racing there and thought that all this money which is spent on making a motorsports facility could’ve been used for educating the children and making homes for the ones in need.
Such statements of his were not taken positively by his fans in India and thinking that he is calling India a “poor” country. Hamilton later clarified that he never had such intentions by putting up a post on twitter. All he wanted to say is that India should focus on more significant things than F1.
Various events took place at the BIC after the F1
The BIC facility is used for various local racing events like the JK Tyre National Racing Championship. The facility also hosted India’s first autocross on an F1 track known as the X-factor Autocross. The track is also used by car manufacturers and auto journalists to test and review newly launched cars. Frequent Open Track Days is also a thing at the BIC.
JK tyre’s Festival of Speed is another event that had been organised at the BIC to promote motorsports in India.
However, such events are not able to fetch the authorities responsible for the track with enough funds to sustain the already high-maintenance facility.
What is the current Situation of the BIC?
YEIDA (Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority) locked the gates of the Buddh International Circuit in February 2020. This action was taken as the lease agreement allowing the Jaypee Group access to the 1000 Hectares of land at the Jaypee Sports City was scrapped by YEIDA. This was apparently done on account of non-payment of land dues by the Jaypee Group. JAYPEE Group is still the owner of the facility and the BIC is still operational.
Only the VIP gates of the facility were sealed and reportedly, the scheduled events at the BIC did take place post the sealing as well. All the existing employees are still working at the facility.
The Jaypee Group has been challenging the YEIDA’s actions ever since and a stay application on the order had been moved in the court of law. No further developments on the case have come up ever since.
The Buddh International Circuit is a good example of how foul corporate decisions and ruthless government policies can run some of the most ambitious and extravagant projects undertaken.
What do you think about the Buddh International Circuit and the current situation of motorsports in India? Let us know in the comment section below.18