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FEBRUARY 15, 1999

An update on India

INDIA is still hoping to hold a Grand Prix in the autumn of 2000 but progress will need to be made soon if the ambition is to become a reality. The project is being backed by British American Tobacco but the current battles between BAR and the FIA have not helped progress.

Additional finance for the program is expected to come from the local West Bengal government and we hear that JyotiÊBasu, the chief minister of the state, is keen on the idea, despite the socialist ruling party having some worries about funding what is an elitist sport.

It is unlikely there will be any finance from India's government, despite its strong nationalistic tendencies - which led to the controversial nuclear testing last Spring. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's 18-party coalition is decidedly shaky and suffered heavy losses in recent state elections.

Despite Asia's economic problems India has not been greatly affected largely because the economy remains heavily controlled. This means that economic growth has been slow although there is a strong entrepreneurial culture developing, notably in the high-technology software industry. There are also signs of growing brand awareness which many of the F1 sponsors are eager to exploit as the Indian middle classes - a group estimated to number 200m people - is a vast untappedÊmarket.

At the moment there are two sites in Calcutta under consideration. One at Bantola and the other at Rajahat. The Madras-based national sporting authority - the Federation of Motor Sport Clubs of India - has expressed reservation about a circuit in Calcutta but the backers of the project say that other cities were considered, notably Bangalore in the south, Pune near Bombay-Mumbai and Delhi in the north.