The first Formula One (F1) race in India is not an end by itself. The race later this month should ideally be only the first chapter in what could be a significant development for Indian sport, engineering, technology, and research and development.
If the investors, sponsors and organizers can tear themselves away from the lure of short-term financial and emotional returns, they have the potential to kindle many fires.
First of all, successful hosting of the event will somewhat help to alleviate the reputation for incompetence that New Delhi recently earned throughout the Commonwealth nations.
An F1 race is nowhere as complicated an endeavour as the Commonwealth Games. But it is certainly a formidable task to pull off in a country with little experience of fast cars on flat roads.
Then, it can prove that private investments in non-cricketing sporting ventures can be worthwhile. It is unclear how profitable the investment in the infrastructure and the event will be. But if the demand for tickets and the incessant media coverage are any indicator, there are sufficient fans to fill the stands and watch on TV.
One also hopes that the main F1 teams and sponsors think of developing feeder teams and minor classes of racing. This will not only create sustained interest, but also year-round employment. Worldwide, these minor classes and Formulae breed world champions.
But the real test lies in reaping the long-term benefits. F1 racing is a crucible for serious innovation in automotive, electronic, computing and manufacturing technologies. There is tremendous potential to make the Buddh Circuit a hub for start-ups and research. Graduates who study exactly these sciences in our colleges can find meaningful employment closer to home.
It makes sense for the F1 teams too. F1 teams are notoriously expensive to run. We pride ourselves in our ability to help developed economies outsource and save. Why not extend our generosity to the high technology of auto racing?
However, if the idea is to have an annual fat cat jamboree in the Noida wilderness, then this will be a tremendous opportunity lost.
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