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Has F1 lost the plot in India?
Has the much-fancied racing extravaganza lost steam in India in its second edition itself? Formula 1, that hit India hard with much fanfare and pomp last year, has failed to generate the same buzz this time around, raising questions over the event's viability in a cricket-mad country.
"It's in a bad shape," says an event manager deeply involved in the event, on condition of anonymity. "The curiosity is not as high as last year as there has been no hype around the event and the marketing has been below par."
Jai Lala, principal partner (exchange) at media and marketing services agency Mindshare, says the event has sobered down this year. "There was hype around the event last year as it was the first time a race of this stature had come to India. Advertisers wanted to cash in on this. I do not see that hype this year as that newness is gone," says Lala.
While India's growing economic clout was one of the key reasons for the race to have set foot in India, the slowdown in economic activity has led to the cold shoulder this time.
"In terms of sports sponsorships, India is still in a nascent stage. Cricket is the only sport which is heavily followed by masses and that is what holds back advertisers from other sports," Lala says, adding that events like F1 - despite their high-profile nature - need time before reaping results. "Here you need to invest not only for mileage, but also to push the sport. Thus, many brands prefer to seen with a successful formula like cricket rather than invest in a new sport like racing."
Adman Prasoon Joshi, McCann Worldgroup South Asia's president, feels the event is yet to evolve. "This is the year of maturing for the F1 in India and the euphoria will certainly not be like the inaugural edition. But this should not be taken as a discouraging sign. "
Joshi blames the "political turmoil" in the country behind the subdued response. "There is a lot happening at the moment to engage the consciousness of the masses," he says, in an apparent reference to the differences between the civil society and the political parties over corruption matters. "The share of mind is currently occupied by national issues. Events like F1 have a definite future, but only when there is stability in the country. "
The slowdown has also dented the morale of the industry. "You require a robust economy - and not a limping one - for events like these. . . I think the economic mood of a nation is very important to determine the business model of any event like this," Joshi adds.
But are cultural issues coming in the way of a more wide-based the acceptance of the sport in India ? "Oh yes. Please remember, we are not a racing car country. Culturally, we are yet to be an automobile nation where cars are a part of the local culture," says Joshi. "Today, such events seem alien to our countrymen."
Prahlad Kakkar, another ad-guru and brand strategist, says F1 as a brand is here to stay but will take its own time to pick up. Economic activity also has a bearing on the cold response this time around, he says, in agreement with Joshi. "Right now, we are in a slowdown. It's wait-and-watch for many," Kakkar says.
Kakkar, who is giving the event a skip, blames the "Delhi culture" for the poor response to the event by the masses, especially as tickets are yet to be sold out fully despite price cuts by organizer Jaypee. "If they had moved the event out of Delhi to near Mumbai or Chennai, it would have rocked. "
However, some corporates associated with the event are still hopeful. "The F1 race gives us an opportunity to showcase the new face of Mercedes in India," says Debasish Mitra, director (sales & marketing ) at the German luxury car brand in India. The race, he says, serves as a "big marketing tool" for the car brand. "F1 is a serious investment on R&D as well as branding as far as Mercedes Benz is concerned, " Mitra says, shooting down speculation that the company has cut its budget in this edition.
Mitra, however, concedes that the chips are somewhat down this time around. "Expectation levels are lower than last year. "
A top official at a leading global car company, that was heavily associated with the sport last year and still is, however, does not sound that upbeat. "It is just not the same as last year at this edition. We have cut down on events and also spends," the official says, refusing to be named.
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