Can India really host a Formula One street race?

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With Sean Bratches stoking the fire in the belly of Asian Formula One fans by stating that he’s looking forward to more street races in Asia, this led motorsport.com to opine that India should push for a street race instead of trying to host a race on BIC.

I agree with the BIC part that it’s a lot more painful trying to host a race at the circuit instead of trying someplace else given the mess Jaypee Group, the owner of BIC, are in a deep mess right now.

But this does beg the question, can India really host a street race?

The idea behind a street race is that it runs in a major city, around the major landmarks of the city, boosting the local tourism instead of a purpose built race track which is far away from the city in the outskirts and for the rest of the time it’s of little use unless you have different events lined up like junior single seater series and other events like MotoGP and such tracks requires high maintenance cost.

But it’s not straight away in favour of street races because they do not cost any cheaper to be honest. Building grandstands and barriers as well as employing staff is not cheaper particularly because of the fact that these barriers have to installed and taken out every year meaning the recurring costs run high.

But the biggest deterrent towards hosting a street race is the issue of having to close down a public road for a month at least, diverting the traffic and dealing with the pressure.

And even if a promoter comes ahead to take it upon himself to host a race, getting the requisite logistics would be the least of his concerns rather it would be where in India can he realistically hold a race. There are so many factors that come into play for hosting a street race. First of all, you need a venue which would make for an interesting and good race. Baku, the latest addition to the street circuits, the track runs through the older part of the city and alongside the monuments like the Maiden Tower and the Palace.

Can a similar setup be applied and evoked in India?

Well, the first choice would be to run the race in a major city to really attract the crowd. Major cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are the first names that come up and these are the cities that make sense. Drawing up the Metropolitan crowd while also having the facilities, the level of standard of which Formula One and its elite guests demand.

But none of these cities can in reality host a street race which means a section running somewhere between 4 km to 7 km in total length of the prominent portion of the public road be closed off for at least a month which includes preparation, race and taking off the race materials time period. These cities suffer from high traffic congestion as it is and suffer hour long jams during any part of the day and as such closing down even a single road becomes an impossible proposition.

The second criteria is that of the roads themselves. India is infamous for its bad quality roads that are unable to even withstand a season’s rains how are they then going to withstand the high loads that an F1 car exerts on the tarmac below it. To successfully run a race would require resurfacing the road with F1 quality tarmac and coupled with being subjected to very very very high traffic for the remaining 11 months would simply mean the tarmac process would have to be exercised every year, and let me tell you that isn’t cheap.

Delhi suffers from a lot of traffic and it keeps on increasing year after year and that leaves conducting a race on public roads impossible despite the city having picturesque monuments like Qutub Minar and the Red Fort and Humayun Tomb to name a few.

The other city is Mumbai and it has a closer connection to a street race than one may think. Back in 2012 Hamilton in his McLaren had a demo run at the famous Marine Drive and that gives a hope that perhaps a race can be organized along the streets of the Financial Capital of the Country but there’s a difference between organising a demo run and a full blown race weekend.

Traffic wise South Mumbai maybe able to cope up with a section closed off but with major offices and financial centers being located in that particular area, the hit business would take and the resistance the track would face does have the potential to derail the project even before you factor in the quality of the road.

Similar is the case with Bangalore or any other major city for that matter. So that brings us to the alternative of holding the race in a smaller city, one that can effectively cope up with a race. But such cities cannot provide the world class amenities.

Let’s just assume that a proper location is does found and it represents the best compromise, the biggest hurdle then comes up is getting the relevant support of the local administration and the requisite permissions. Do not forget the Custom clearances and the high level of duties that teams have to pay to get the parts imported, the primary reason why the original 5-year of run on BIC was cut short.

So to hold a race, it requires first and foremost the change in the attitude of the government itself before any sort of plan can even be conceived.

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