- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2011

NEW DELHI (AP) - The champagne world of Formula One has never raced in such contrasting surroundings like this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix, with the areas surrounding the track reflecting the deep poverty of much of the country’s people.

Some critics have attacked the idea of hosting a sport so associated with glamor and the high life in an area with so much deprivation.

Local billionaire businessman Vijay Mallya is the majority owner and team principal of the Force India team. He said the poverty of large parts of the population should not prevent the nation from hosting events like Formula One.

“In every country there are the privileged and underprivileged,” Mallya said. “We have underprivileged people in our country, but that doesn’t mean that the country must be bogged down or weighed down.

“The government is doing all it can to address the needs of the poor or the underprivileged people, but India must move on.”

Most F1 races around the world are heavily subsidized by governments, both in paying the huge hosting rights and constructing the facilities. However, the Buddh International Circuit outside New Delhi and the associated costs have been entirely borne by local investment group Jaypee.

“In a country like India, with the profile of our people, with the number of underprivileged people we also have, it would be too much of an ask if we went to government and said ‘subsidize motor sport,’” Mallya said. “God bless them (Jaypee), they’ve done a wonderful job and invested a lot of money and they haven’t depended on any sort of government grants.”

Williams team chief executive Adam Parr rejected the tag of elitism attached to F1, which may attract the jet set but has long since moved beyond the formative years of the sport when it was a hobby of the idle rich.

“If you look at the people who participate in the sport, drivers and the rest of us, everyone is from normal backgrounds, work hard,” Parr said. “If you compare the amounts that people earn in our sport compared with an IPL or English Premier League, it’s a much more democratic and much more spread-out kind of sport.

“On the eve of our Indian Grand Prix, it’s very important to make the point that this is not an elite sport, it’s a sport for the whole world.”


HELMET TRIBUTES: Tributes to motor sport stars Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli _ both killed in race accidents this month _ figure prominently on the helmets of several drivers at this weekend’s race.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso has the race numbers of the men displayed below his visor, commemorating the deaths of IndyCar’s Wheldon and MotoGP rider Simoncelli.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber used to work as a racing instructor with Wheldon and will be wearing a commemorative sticker on his helmet, as will McLaren’s Jenson Button, who grew up racing against Wheldon in Britain.

McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton will be wearing a black armband in Sunday’s race. The top of the British driver’s helmet is painted with the face of reggae great Bob Marley, having promised the family he would do so to promote its charitable efforts.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel has the faces of all his crew members displayed on the top of his helmet, thanks for their role in helping him clinch back-to-back world championships.


CANINE CAPERS: While most people were able to see the funny side of Friday’s practice session being red-flagged because of a stray dog on the track, Renault driver Bruno Senna had good reason to be less amused.

Senna hit and killed a dog on a track when racing in the GP2 series in Turkey in 2008 _ and had hoped such canine encounters would never happen again.

Senna told Autosport magazine that when he arrived at the track for the India Grand Prix practice, he saw the dog walking around the entrance of the paddock.

“It shows that no one really paid attention to it and the fact that it got into the track is difficult to believe,” he said in the magazine. “In the drivers’ briefing, I will be sure to raise the point.”



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