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Indian Grand Prix faces axe in 2014

F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone looks out of his motor home after the second practice for the German F1 Grand Prix at the Nuerburgri
F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone looks out of his motor home after the second practice for the German F1 Grand Prix at the Nuerburgri

By Alan Baldwin

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The Indian Grand Prix is likely to be dropped from next year's Formula One calendar as Russia prepares for its debut, commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has told Reuters.

"Is India going to happen next year? Probably not," he said at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Asked what the problem was with the race at Greater Noida, near New Delhi, the 82-year-old British billionaire replied: "Very political."

Reacting to the comment, the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India chief Vicky Chandhok confirmed next year's race was in question but said the grand prix still had a future beyond that.

He said race promoters Jaypee Sports International and Ecclestone were in talks to shift it from a late 2014 slot to early 2015 with an extension to 2016 to make up for the missed year.

Ecclestone, who has run Formula One for decades, draws up the calendar and usually presents it to the governing International Automobile Federation to be rubber-stamped in September.

He currently has a possible 22 races jostling for space on the calendar with teams expressing a strong preference for a maximum of 20.

Russia, with a debut race penciled in for the Black Sea resort of Sochi towards the end of next year, and a grand prix in New Jersey are the two novelties planned for 2014 with Austria also due to make a comeback after an 11-year absence.

India first hosted a grand prix in 2011 to positive reviews from the Formula One community and this year's is scheduled for October 27 as the 16th round of the 19-race championship.

LOGICAL SENSE

"I work closely with both, the Jaypee Group and Bernie. Apparently they are trying to find a mutually convenient date to start early in the year in 2015," Chandhok, father of Indian racing driver Karun, told Reuters.

"With that in mind, 2014 obviously doesn't make logical sense and nobody can afford to have a late start in 2014 and then host another grand prix early 2015.

"I think what they are trying is to find a solution to run 2015 early in the year and 2016 instead of 2014 late."

The Sepang International Circuit hosted the Malaysian Grand Prix as the last race of the 2000 season before holding the second race of 2001 and continuing with an early slot to date.

Chandhok said both Ecclestone and Jaypee want to continue their association.

"I am not saying that the 2014 race is off. They are trying to find a date early 2015. I am saying that's what Bernie must have meant," Chandhok added. "Both Bernie and Jaypee want Formula One to continue in India.

"If they do find a date then the 2014 - instead of running in October, November - will be postponed by four months to run the next year.

"And since their contract is for five years, they will run 2015 and 2016."

PROMOTERS KEEN

The two races to date in India have both been won by Red Bull's triple world champion Sebastian Vettel.

There have been bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, however, as well as concern about finances and the sport's exposure to high local taxation.

Jaypee, which last month slammed the media speculation about next year's race as "totally baseless and malicious", hoped things will be sorted out.

"We have not got anything in writing from the Formula One management regarding the status of the 2014 Indian Grand Prix," Jaypee spokesman Askari Zaidi said by phone.

"We are keen that Formula One races take place in India at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) till our contract is in operation that is 2015."

Next year's Indian Grand Prix was the subject of much discussion in Hungary, with teams recognizing it faced problems but hoping they could be resolved.

"It would be a pity if for these (tax) reasons we don't go there," Sauber's Indian-born principal Monisha Kaltenborn told Reuters.

"India is an important market for partners who are already in Formula One or who could get into Formula One because of that market so it really would be a pity if we would not manage to sort out these problems."

(Additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Patrick Johnston)

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