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Formula One: Troubled India GP 'on' after challenge delayed

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Organisers of this weekend's troubled Indian Grand Prix breathed a sigh of relief Friday after the Supreme Court pushed back a petition calling for the race's cancellation.

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel is expected to be confirmed as Formula One champion in Sunday's race on the outskirts of Delhi, needing only to finish in the top five to clinch the title for a fourth year in a row.

His coronation had been thrown into doubt on Thursday when the country's top court agreed to hear a petition brought by an activist who says organisers have still to pay entertainment taxes from last year's race.

The petition had added to a general mood of despondency at the Greater Noida circuit which has already been removed from next season's list of Formula One venues.

Although the court had been due to hear the petition on Friday, a lawyer involved in the case said it had now been pushed back until next week and the race could now go ahead as scheduled.

"The hearing will now take place next week," the lawyer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"This means the race can go ahead."

A new date to hear the petition had yet to be set, said another source at the court in the capital.

Amit Kumar, the activist behind the petition, successfully argued two years ago that Formula One was entertainment and not sport, and should not benefit from tax exemptions granted by the state of Uttar Pradesh which hosts the race.

While organisers have refused to comment on the latest petition, entertainment tax has been levied on tickets this year for the first time in a move that has further hampered sales.

A spokesman for the organisers said that only 32,000 tickets had been sold as of Friday morning, barely two days before the race takes place at the 100,000-capacity circuit.

Although India will not host a Grand Prix next year for what organisers have called "logistical reasons", the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone has pledged the Formula One circus will return in early 2015 in a rejigged calendar.

This year's event is the third to be held at the $450 million Buddh International Circuit as part of a five-race contract.

Sameer Gaur, CEO of the circuit's owners Jaypee Sports International Limited (JPSI), has said there "should be no doubt that we will be back in 2015" but his conviction is not widely shared.

"The general mood in the paddock is that of disappointment that F1 has failed to set roots in the country," said The Times of India, arguing that the central government had never given the race wholehearted support.

"The race is already off the provisional racing calendar for 2014 and there is plenty of scepticism whether it will indeed return in 2015," the paper added.

If it is to be the last race, then spectators can at least look forward to the prospect of watching the championship decider.

The 26-year-old Vettel has a 90-point lead over his nearest challenger, the Spaniard Fernando Alonso.

The only way Vettel can be denied the title is if he fails to win a point in the remaining four races -- provided Ferrari's Alonso wins at least three of them and finishes second in the other.

Vettel set a new lap record in first free practice on Friday, scorching round the circuit in 1min 26.68secs.

"It's looking very good, but we have to focus on the job at hand," Vettel, who will join Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as only the third man to win four straight titles, told reporters Thursday.

"Everybody will try hard to do their best, so it is going to be a tough weekend. We have reasons to believe our car will be competitive," the German added.

The Red Bull team, which also includes Vettel's team-mmate Mark Webber, could also secure their fourth successive constructors' title on Sunday.

"We have been working hard the whole year," said Vettel.

"We believe we are good enough to secure the championships. It will be something very, very special for us."

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