Ecclestone says Indian GP on track, wants sponsors

Sep.2 (GMM) Bernie Ecclestone is not ready to draw a line through plans for an Indian grand prix, despite the country’s government refusing to pay scheduled fees to his company.

Following a request by the 2011 race’s organisers for more than $35m in funding to be paid to Formula One Management, the Indian sports minister turned it down on the basis that F1 is not a sport but “entertainment”.

“Everybody is entitled to their views. That’s the good or the bad part of democracy,” F1 chief executive Ecclestone, 78, is quoted as saying by domestic media on Wednesday.

The Briton said the promotion contract for the F1 race, with construction on a new circuit already underway, remains in place. “(The race has) been on for a long time. There’s never been any doubt,” Ecclestone in London told the Indian news agency PTI.

“The contract has been signed a long time back.” He said he will be on site when the circuit’s foundation stone is laid in October.

Meanwhile Ecclestone will attempt to stir the interest of the Indian corporate world when he visits the country next month.

The F1 chief executive in October is scheduled to review the progress of the site of the future Indian grand prix, but he has vowed to take the opportunity to also look into how to attract more Indian sponsors to the sport.

2009 is the second year of Vijay Mallya’s Force India team, but it is still predominantly the Indian billionaire’s own alcohol and airline brands that adorn the livery of the VJM02.

Ecclestone played down the impact of the global recession on F1, but he admitted his interest in tapping into one of the world’s most strident economies. “When I come to India in October I will meet with people and see what is the best way to move forward,” the Briton told the Indian press agency PTI.

F1 lost a wave of sponsors amid the recent height of the global financial crisis, but Ecclestone insists the worst of the impact is now past. “Sponsorship was obviously a problem as a lot of big names were reconsidering but it is better now and sponsors are coming back,” he said.