NEW DELHI: India’s hopes of hosting a Formula One grand prix as early as 2009 gained a boost on 21 March when Delhi’s chief minister welcomed the idea of having a street race like the one in Monaco.
“If it comes to India, which I hope it will, I’d really welcome it,” Sheila Dikshit told reporters after her meeting with leading businessman Vijay Mallya, whose Kingfisher Airlines is a new sponsor of the Toyota F1 team.
“It certainly is feasible. We had an extremely positive meeting with the chief minister, who is entirely supportive of the idea,” Mallya said.
“One of the areas which we believe would be beautiful and has a lot of heritage value is in and around the India Gate,” Mallya added.
Toyota driver Ralf Schumacher, on a visit to India for the new team sponsor, said: “Clearly from what I have seen, it will be a great event. I am looking forward to it and hopefully it will happen.”
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is keen to expand the sport’s reach further in Asia, with South Korea already promised a grand prix for 2010 and Singapore hoping for a street race as well.
India, with a booming economy and more than 500 million people under the age of 20, is a strong candidate.
The country had a first Formula One driver in Narain Karthikeyan, now a Williams tester, in 2005.
“Yes, cricket is like a religion in this country. I am not saying 1.1 billion people are going to watch F1. But there is more than enough appetite out there,” Mallya said.
At a news conference in Mumbai on 20 March, Mallya said the facilities to be built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games could be used for the F1.
“This is the first time I have been involved in trying to bring F1 to India. Delhi is gearing up big time in infrastructure for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the chief minister is excited about the possibility,” he said.