The smell of burning rubber, the ear-splitting shriek of V8 engines, the frenetic energy and strategizing in the pits—all of it an absolute pleasure for any Formula One fanatic. And it’s that assumption I carried with me to the first-ever Indian Grand Prix (GP) at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida. But I was surprised to find that you don’t have to be a fanatic, enthusiast or even initiated into the sport to still feel the thrill of the race, and feel the vibration of the F1 cars. It was heartening to see so many Indians embrace a sport relatively new to them, and one that’s considered elitist and niche.
In fact, it was this aspect of the people’s response, besides the world-class track of course, that got the attention of F1 superstars like Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. Schumacher told me he had heard that Indians knew their F1, but he really wanted to feel that energy for himself when he stepped on to the track. And he did. In fact, it was that one common message that so many of the drivers carried back with them. Vettel, while acknowledging the disparities in India, said in many ways Indians were richer than their European counterparts.
Grandstand: The Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida. By Vivek Prakash/Reuters
A great sound bite? Sure, but more importantly it was said from the heart. Other drivers like Schumacher’s teammate Nico Rosberg and former partner Felipe Massa arrived a bit early so as to be able to take in the sights and sounds of Delhi. So from Humayun’s Tomb to Chandni Chowk, they tried everything —from some shopping to even rickshaw rides!
While the race itself went off very smoothly, it could have been more exciting. I expected the drivers to indulge in more overtaking, with the race having two Drag Reduction System (DRS) zones. These are parts of the track where drivers can engage the car’s DRS to propel forward with an extra burst of speed, thus overtaking the nearest adversary. The BIC track did come through on its just-gained reputation of being the fastest track in the world, after Monza in Italy.
We saw some fast action courtesy Vettel, who stayed ahead right through the race. Others who exhibited some equally meritorious skills were Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, McLaren’s Jenson Button and yes, the legendary Michael Schumacher—who in fact had a great race, finishing fifth. It was also a good day on the track for India’s F1 pioneer Narain Karthikeyan. I met him after the race, and both of us revelled in how unbelievable it all was. The fact that we never thought India could get such a circuit or have its own GP race! It was a similar emotion of disbelief mixed with pride for the other Indians in F1—be it Team Lotus’ Karun Chandhok (who missed out on actually driving in the race), to team bosses like Vijay Mallya, Subroto Roy and even Sauber CEO Monisha Kaltenborn.
Racing ahead: Sebastian Vettel. By Eugene Hoshiko/AP
Of course, the race always lasts just about 90 minutes, and I have to agree with some detractors that for many it was more to do with the glitter and glamour than the on-track action. Many folks, especially those in the paddock club lounges, were more interested in getting a glimpse of the Bollywood types present or checking out the extravagant buffets and overflowing bars. But isn’t that true of derbies and polo matches too? So to all those who pooh-pooh the Page 3 people, or the cynics who cry bloody murder over how this event makes the disparities in India even more stark, I say that we should simply revel in the glory India has got from pulling off a well-organized sporting event.
The track itself? I have to say it looks very impressive even to me. The fact that there are several other, albeit smaller, events planned on it is also exciting. In fact, as a motoring journalist, it gladdens me that now car and bike makers need not feel compelled to hire tracks overseas for driving events or launches. The BIC is perfect for many such events. In fact, I do know many of them are already planning motor sport and driving activities at the circuit, and I cannot wait to drive on the BIC myself. The question now is: Will it be a fiery Ferrari, a red-hot R8, or even the escort that ran with the F1 speedsters as the safety car, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG? Maybe it will be a humbler ride! But until that happens, I shall simply wait.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org