Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has contended that the promoters of the Indian Grand Prix have not fully met their contractual obligations to see through the five-year deal. The Indian promoters, the Jaypee Group, in a polite yet firm retort, refused to discuss the contractual terms in public.
They have promised to sort them out with the Formula One Management (FOM). Ecclestone told IANS from his London office on telephone that he and his organisation was still committed to see through the five-year contract, provided what he called certain "surmountable obstacles" were sorted out.
He said the Indian GP promoters have not fully complied with the race contract to put the 2015 race in jeopardy. It now seems that the tax and bureaucratic hurdles cited for the uncertainty over the race returning to the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) were not the only reasons.
Ecclestone's revelation comes days after he said that he wants the race to be pushed to 2016 so that the country "gradually gets over all the bureaucratic and the tax issues to improve the general financial conditions". His statement fuelled speculation whether the race will ever see through the remaining two races of the contract.
Ecclestone hastened to add that he was still hoping India to be back on F1 calendar next season. "I was hoping that things would get better in India but they haven't unfortunately. The race promoters there have not been able to comply with parts of the contract and they are mostly money related.
"I must clarify here that we still have very good relations with the promoters and we still want to see through the remaining two years of our contract.
But that can happen only if we get the financial guarantees," said the 83-year-old Monday night, adding that Jaypee did meet most of the terms of the agreement in the first three years (2011-2013).
For his part, Jaypee Sports International CEO Sameer Gaur told IANS that it would not be prudent to make the contractual details public and reiterated he would soon meet Ecclestone to bring the race back next year.
"It would not be right for me to talk about the contract with anyone else other than Mr. Ecclestone and FOM.
I am already in touch with him but you can't expect me to discuss publicly what transpires between us. We will soon meet to sort out the issues and am confident the race will be back next year," said Gaur whose company pays around $40 million a year to host the race at a time when it is also feeling the heat of the current global financial crisis.
As it is, it may be tough for a race to return in an increasingly crowded calendar.
The 2014 season will see Austria's comeback and then the F1 caravan travelling to Sochi, Russia, for the first time. Ecclestone said India had two months to settle the issue and if things fall in place, it might not have to wait till 2016 to make a return.
"I am still trying for 2015 and we have got about two months time to make that happen.
We have loved the organisation in India and it is a fantastic circuit. We really want to get back.
I hope the promoters are able to sort things out soon, otherwise it would be difficult in the future to slot them in an already packed calendar," said the British businessman, who last week said that Azerbaijan was among the possible venues in 2016.
Underling India's potential, he went to the extent of saying that the country has more potential than Asian giant China, which has been successfully hosting a Grand Prix in Shanghai since 2004. "India is among the few new F1 venues where people understand the sport and want to understand it better. That is why I have greater faith in India than China," he concluded.
(Bharat Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)