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DECEMBER 11, 2000

India's F1 project is ready if politics allows

THE plans for a Grand Prix in India have now been completed and were submitted to the West Bengal state government a couple of weeks ago. These will be studied in the course of the next month and there is expected to be a decision as to whether or not the local government will fund the programme.

Much depends on an election which is due next Spring.

The communist-led Left Front led by Jyoti Basu has been running West Bengal since 1977 but a month ago, at the age of 86, Basu announced he was retiring as chief minister and handed power to his protege Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

The Left Front's power appears to be slipping with a major challenge expected to come in the elections from the Trinamul Congress party led by Mamata Banerjee.

Bhattacharya is understood to be very keen for the race as it would be a very good way for the state to publicize its planned name changes for Calcutta and West Bengal itself. Bhattacharya has been the mastermind behind the plan to change the name Calcutta to Kolkata and West Bengal to Bangla. Mamata Banerjee is against the idea and she has appealed to the national government in New Delhi to refuse to agree to the change. This is not going to be easy because it agreed that the city of Bombay should be allowed to change its name to Mumbai.

There could be a decision about the Formula 1 race before the elections and if this is the case most of the work needing to be done could be completed by the end of 2002 with the Indians understood to be keen on a date late in the season when the weather in Calcutta is cooler. It remains to be seen whether Mamata Banerjee will support a Grand Prix but the general feeling is that it would be good for the state and if communists are willing to fund a race track, the rather less radical Congress party should also agree to the plan as they try to attract investment to the West Bengal state.