India needs Formula One for business: Former champion Mika Hakkinen

Moscow, June 7 (IANS) With motor sport’s world governing body set to announce in September a provisional list of cities for the 2016 F-1 season, twice-crowned former world champion Mika Hakkinen says India needs the premier competition as it is a great platform for business.

“India needs Formula One as it is a great platform for business and a fantastic tool for connecting people,” the Finnish great, who retired from professional racing in 2001, told IANS in an interview here on the sidelines of a global conference on innovation.

Without wishing to comment on the circumstances that resulted in India being dropped for the 2014 and 2015 seasons – after staging the race for three seasons – Hakkinen, now an angel investor and brand ambassador for well-known names like Mercedes Benz, Johnny Walker and UBS financial services, expressed a keen desire to collaborate with India.

“What can I do for India, a great country with a massive amount of people and cars,” said Hakkinen, who has earlier been to New Delhi but not to the Gautam Buddh F-1 track in Greater Noida.

“The memories of my work, they make me a visible person and good at connecting people. All the connections over years are coming together now…I’m connecting people,” he said.

Dubbed the “Flying Finn”, the Formula One champion in 1998 and 1999 has been one of the few to beat German legend Michael Schumacher in a head-to-head championship contest.

“Business is like Formula One. Hundreds form a team to make for success,” Hakkinen said.

As an angel investor, he is putting money into startups in sectors like healthcare, environment and nano-technology.

“This kind of investing is a difficult but exciting process, because it is not easy to foresee which way these companies will turn out in the future. Big companies, however, need small startups, because they need to connect to many smaller networks,” Hakkinen added.

He said he brings companies to invest in Russia and was here as a speaker at an international conference on startups organised by Russia’s biggest innovation fund – the Skolkovo Foundation.

A major deal signed by Russia at Skolkovo’s Startup Village conference this year was with the Turku Science Park of Finland for setting up a centre for research in bio-technologies at the Skolkovo City near here which houses an innovation centre comprising space for over 1,000 companies and startups, a Technopark and a new functioning university established in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Skolkovo-Turku “Biocity” agreement envisages the construction of 30,000 square metres of facility at a cost of euro 200 million, to be made ready by 2018.

The resident companies in the Skolkovo Startup Village, spread over 100,000 square metres on the outskirts of the Russian capital, conduct research in diverse fields ranging from information technology and robotics, space and nuclear technology, biomedicine, energy-efficiency technologies and new materials.

Venture capital and venture funds are also housed in the project area of 400 hectares that includes residences, school and sports facilities under construction.

India’s leading medical new molecules maker, the Mumbai-based Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, signed an agreement with Skolkovo earlier this week.

Though the third edition of the conference was held in the backdrop of a difficult economic time for the Eurasian nations hit by Western sanctions over Ukraine, and by much lower prices for oil that is a major export, the organisers said the combined value of agreements signed have exceeded their original target.

“Everyone understands it is not a government and political project…Skolkovo is a non-profit organisation, which the state aids by some partial subvention and by giving tax relief,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told reporters here at the end of the conference.

Pointing out how foreign companies had not left Russia following the conflict in Ukraine and that investments from abroad had actually increased, Dvorkovich, who heads Skolkovo’s supervisory council, added: “This is a people-to-people, human relations project. It is not an industrial technology park, but one for education, research and development.”

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