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Chandhok: F1 struggling in India mission

Karun Chandhok (left) and Narain Karthikeyan (right) are the only two Indians to have competed in Formula One.

Story highlights

  • Vicky Chandhok tells CNN it could be 10 years until India produces another F1 driver
  • Chandhok's son Karun is one of just two Indians to have competed in the sport
  • HRT's Narain Karthikeyan is the only Indian driver currently contracted to an F1 team
  • Sunday's race at the Buddh International Circuit is the second hosted by India

India may have hosted its first Formula One grand prix in 2011, but the sport's future on the sub-continent could be bleak according to one senior official.

Vicky Chandhok, president of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, is the father of Karun Chandhok, one of only two Indian drivers to have competed in F1. The other is Narain Karthikeyan, who is currently contracted to strugglers HRT.

Chandhok told CNN that the increasing need for drivers to attract big-money sponsors has made it harder for talented youngsters to break through, especially with F1 battling to gain a foothold in India's sporting spectrum.

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"After Narain and Karun, I really can't see an Indian driver for the next, I would say, eight to 10 years," Chandhok said ahead of this weekend's Indian Grand Prix.

"Formula One has become all about money ... it never was earlier, you could find a slot with just talent.

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    "The Formula One teams have decided that even if you've got talent, let's have your checkbook as well -- bring in five, 10, 20 million dollars and let's give you the seat."

    According to Chandhok, it could take a figure such as legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to spark genuine interest in F1 among India's 1.2 billion inhabitants.

    "India needs heroes, India needs superheroes like Sachin Tendulkar," he said.

    "Narain and Karun have certainly given the sport, or our sport at least in India, the slot that it desperately needed. Formula One has helped."

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    Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel won last year's inaugural race at the Buddh International Circuit, near New Delhi, but Chandhok fears interest in the event has dipped since then.

    "There's been a massive drop in buzz, I don't know why," he said. "After the first year, we had a sellout crowd in year one of 95,000 people, but year two there has been a dip.

    "I think we will end up with 60,000 spectators in the stands ... (in India) nobody's used to be parked in long queues just waiting to get to a Formula One event, having to find passes -- it's a very sanitized atmosphere."

    Despite Chandhok predicting a drop in attendance figures, MotorSport magazine's Ed Foster says 60,000 is still a sizable crowd compared to other dates on the F1 calendar.

    "The first year you are always going to get a lot of spectators and a lot of interest," he told CNN. "It needs to be put in perspective as well -- 60,000 spectators is a huge number of spectators.

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    "Places like South Korea didn't get half of that number. They might not have as many spectators as last year, but they have still got a hell of a lot more than many other race tracks."

    The cheapest ticket for the track over the weekend is $61.53 in a country where there is widespread poverty. Foster said the prohibitive ticket prices are a direct result of the millions of dollars which must be paid to host an F1 grand prix.

    "It's a problem all over the world," he said. "You can't charge hundreds of pounds for a grandstand seat and then complain you haven't got enough spectators.

    "The tickets prices are astronomical. The fees paid to host a grand prix are many millions, so in order to try and recoup some of those funds the tickets prices are high."

    However, Chandhok hopes F1 can develop in India despite the challenges faced by its race organizers.

    "I do hope that economically and financially it remains viable," he said. "There is a contract between the GP group and Formula One until 2015.

    "Beyond that I do hope that we can sustain it, and if not maybe F1 will start to change their approach to rights fees and things like that.

    "It's very high at $40 million, it's very high for a country like us, but as we start using the facility that is built for it for other uses, like concerts, national events, I think it will be fantastic to try to make this with a really long-term plan. I gather it will work."