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OPINION: Cancelling the Hyderabad E Prix will Leave an indelible mark on Motorsport in India

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

A breath of fresh air, a moment of ecstasy, joy, a feeling of victory. Motorsport fans in the subcontinent most certainly experienced such a moment when the Hyderabad E Prix was included on the 2023 Formula E calendar.

An international racing series would return to Indian shores for the first time since that memorable day in 2013, when Sebastian Vettel’s donuts on the Buddh International Circuit left a lasting memory for fans of the sport. 

Coupled with the arrival of MotoGP back to the same venue that last held an F1 race in 2013, along with series such as the Indian Racing League (IRL) and the recently-concluded Indian F4 championship, motorsport finally looked to be breaking through, to the world’s most populated country. A massive market of 1.4 Billion to tap into! One can only imagine the possibilities. 

Yes, the 2023 Hyderabad E Prix wasn’t all smooth sailing behind the scenes, as fans complained of issues with the facilities, and a security breach made for a rare sight of daily commuters driving their vehicles along the circuit, unaware of the road closures. However, you are bound to experience hiccups when you host an event of such magnitude for the first time. 

After back-and-forth deliberation behind the scenes, the government who initially brought the event to the city, put in a last-ditch effort to revive the event once again, setting a date of February 10th for the event. 

However, after the recent change of government in Telangana, the Hyderabad E Prix finds itself in trouble, once again.

Top brass of the all-electric racing series were shocked to find a letter from the newly-instituted Congress government, one that could potentially impact the Formula E race. Suddenly, the subcontinent round of the Formula E season is on the verge of cancellation, and faces the risk of being dropped from the calendar, with only six weeks for the showpiece event. 

The series of events came as a shock to fans of the series, and once again questioned India’s integrity to host big-ticket motorsport events. 

It is a massive blow to a country coming off a decade-long hiatus as a motorsport host, and as I would term it, an indelible mark on motorsport in India, having large-scale implications into the long-term. 

There’s a number of reasons why the cancellation of the Hyderabad E Prix will impact motorsport in India in the longer term, apart from the natural resentment of motorsport fans in the subcontinent. 

First up, the inaugural Hyderabad E Prix proved to be a success on the track, and played host to a thrilling race. Jean-Eric Vergne thrilled the crowd with a defensive masterclass, fending off the charging Nick Cassidy to take his — and Penske’s only race win of the season. 

The race was arguably where the Gen3 era really took off, and gave us the inkling of yet another classic Formula E championship battle, one that would go down to the wire. Despite the sketchy turn one-two chicane that brought track limits into question, the ensuing straight led into the hairpin of turns three and four, and this section was the centre of action during the race, witnessing overtakes and incidents all through the race. 

The Hyderabad E Prix reinvigorated the 2023 Formula E season, one that was written off as a battle between the Porsche-powered teams on the grid: TAG Heuer Porsche, and Avalanche Andretti. The race brought about the resurgence of the Jaguar powertrains, as Nick Cassidy and Mitch Evans made it a four-way battle for the championship ever since, one to remember for fans. 

Naturally, when you have a race that delivered, and received warm reception from all corners of the series, you would want to witness more of the race on the calendar. This cancellation would certainly disappoint the follower base of the sport, and leave them questioning India as a Formula E host in the future. 

If the fan reactions weren’t enough, the numbers speak for themselves. According to a study by Nielsen Sports Analysis, the event generated an economic benefit worth $83.7 Million (69,914 Cr INR), a staggering figure for an event with only two days of action on the track!

In addition, $4 Million was spent on accommodation and hotels in the area, while the event managed to generate $3.5 Million across television, print, and social media platforms. $1.8 Million was spent at local restaurants on food and beverage. All this was for around a week, in the days leading up to the event. 

These figures far outweighed the overheads spent on hosting the event, which was estimated to be 150 Cr INR, a much smaller value when compared to the near-70,000 Crore benefit derived from the event. 

In addition, 59% of the personnel at the track came from outside the city, and the event in itself brought plenty of publicity to the capital city of Telangana. Over 25,000 fans attended the race, a successful turnout for the event, with a total attendance of 31,000 at the circuit, playing important roles to ensure the event took place. 

Now, the sheer profit generated from the event certainly makes it worth reinvesting in. It would be silly not to continue hosting an event bringing in such returns. Instead, the government made a hue and cry over inconveniencing the public. For starters, the same public would be looking forward to the event, and praise the government for bringing such an event. 

Yes, it would certainly affect the normal flow of traffic, but with diversions made known well before, people would know they’d have to take alternative routes, and be prepared. It would be less of an inconvenience, and a temporary one, at that. 

The government is another important piece of the puzzle for an event of such stature. The previous Telangana government strived to bring an event of such magnitude to their state, and help international motorsport events return to the subcontinent. Their efforts also helped the event return to the calendar, atleast until the recent series of events surfaced. 

Up North, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the government at the state actively supported the arrival of MotoGP in the subcontinent, with chief minister Yogi Adityanath himself presenting the winner’s trophy to VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi, a strong sign of his commitment towards the event, and ensuring its continuity on the calendar. 

Such examples highlight local governments' desire to go the extra mile to make such events possible, and both times, the returns have outweighed the costs by multiple times. 

Despite the first year usually being the most successful year for a motorsport event, there is no doubt MotoGP will continue to be successful well into the future, as promoters will look to iron out operational issues, and bring even more fans to witness the subcontinental spectacle. 

As for the new government in the state of Telangana, the potential cancellation of the Hyderabad E Prix is just another way of expressing their dissatisfaction towards the event. Party leaders protested outside the venue of the race earlier this year, objecting to a stage set up for the event that covered a statue of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, one of the party’s stalwarts.

The leaders also slammed the earlier government in power for inefficiencies surrounding the event, and called the race an inconvenience for the citizens, stating for such races to be held on the outskirts of the city, rather than in the city. 

However, doing so would inconvenience fans, who would have to travel long distances to a circuit on the outskirts of the city. It would be contrary to Formula E’s goal of making their events approachable to the fans, and such a measure would have led to backlash from people attending the races. 

The government’s stand on the event sounds baseless, considering the economic benefits and publicity brought to the capital city. Hyderabad would be the best location to have hosted such an event in the state too, given the city’s facilities to host a Formula E race, compared to other towns or cities in the state. 

In addition, if you protest about inefficiencies of an event, your natural reaction would be finding solutions to enhance the experience, rather than shooting off a letter to the top brass stating your inability to host such an event. This is what makes the government’s decision sound even more puzzling, and the party in power continually remains agnostic towards motorsport in the country. 

Keep in mind, this was the same party in power when the Indian Grand Prix experienced its tax debacles back in the mid-2010s, and F1 left India with a sour taste in their mouth. This was an opportunity to change perceptions, and the party once again let people down with their recent decision. 

The last-minute cancellation of the Hyderabad E Prix will jeopardise Formula E’s relations with India, and can threaten the long-term relationship with the country in the future. If races are only a government change away from dropping off the calendar, it certainly isn’t a good look for the series or the sport. 

The cancellation of the only subcontinental event on the calendar would come as a massive disappointment, not just to motorsport fans in India or across the world, but to the Formula E paddock as well, who were looking for a successful return to Indian soil for yet another running of the Hyderabad E Prix. 

What’s even more gutting is neither Jehan Daruvala nor Mahindra Racing getting the home race they so rightly deserved, and may not get one for the foreseeable future. 

As this writer would put it, just as the subcontinent was making big strides to host more motorsport events in the future, this will set them back once again, and leave an indelible mark on motorsport in India, long into the future.  


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