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F1: The million-dollar circus

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Fri, Oct 26, 2012 19:11 hrs
India gears up for second F1 grand prix

Just ahead of the Indian Grand Prix in motor racing last year, the Sahara Force India team hosted a press conference at one of Mumbai's swankier watering holes. It seemed there was a fad on at the time involving a drummer on stage urging guests to look under their tables, discover drums and then drum along; the whole place kicking up a merry din in unison.

While the rest of the audience was a part of this planned percussionist performance, motorsport correspondents were waiting to catch a glimpse of the Force India drivers who were scheduled to speak to the press. As drivers Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil climbed on to the stage, along with reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg, they were handed drums and instructed to be a part of the act. So, there stood three of the fastest drivers in the world, clutching drums, looking a tad embarrassed but obediently doing as told.

Formula One (F1) is a multi-million dollar sport, and to survive in the business, you need pockets as deep as the Mariana Trench. It's the sort of sport where, to succeed, you need to pump in big bucks, bring in sponsors and, more important, keep them happy. This is true of nearly every team on the grid – whether one as iconic as Scuderia Ferrari or a young upstart one like HRT. While the privateer teams (such as Force India) - dying breed that they may be - are in the sport purely because they want to be, they don't have the big budgets that come with an association with a manufacturer. In other words, it means they require the most help monetarily and, thus, keeping sponsors happy becomes a prime concern.

This doesn't mean the top teams are able to escape the hoopla that comes with being a part of the F1 circus. Shell, official fuel suppliers to the Ferrari F1 team, also organised an event on the Thursday before the 2012 Indian Grand Prix. The event was designed to educate the F1 fan about the complexity of the fuel used in an F1 car but it was a little awkward for driver Felipe Massa. The diminutive Brazilian stood on the stage, latex gloves on, donned a pair of laboratory glasses and then mixed a fruit cocktail in front of the press. Each part of the cocktail represented a component that went into the fuel and after considerable pouring, blending and mixing, Massa and the Shell team downed the concoction. As he's just managed to extend his contract with Ferrari for 2013, it's unlikely he's in any position to protest about media and sponsorship obligations. It's the case with nearly every driver on the grid - if money needs to be pumped into the team, sponsors need visibility. That's what F1 is.

There's simply no escaping this either, particularly on a Grand Prix weekend, when you are bombarded with reminders of F1 and money matters. On the long drive to the circuit, with the radio playing constantly, the ads simply don't stop. Kimi Raikkonen, the "Iceman" famous for keeping his interviews crisp and short, is endorsing Clear anti-dandruff shampoo. There are other events as well, like the one Red Bull's Mark Webber took part in - that involved him having to play cricket with Gautam Gambhir. And, as you go closer to the track, you're bombarded with billboards advertising Homestead's 'Michael Schumacher World Tower' - located in Gurgaon.

But, it's unlikely that you'll ever find a driver complaining about having to jump through hoops to keep sponsors happy. Every sponsorship deal comes with a contract that details the number of appearances a driver must make for that sponsor at a particular event, the duration of the visit, the number of media interactions each sponsor is allowed and much more. It's all a part of the well-oiled machine that is Formula One.

On the flip side, things can get a little tricky, as it happened many a moon ago post the Force India press conference. Once they'd been made to play the drums and entertain the crowds, motorsport correspondents were faced with three sullen-faced drivers who really didn't want to give interviews but soldiered on as best as they could. Stiff upper lips, then.




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