Well, this one’s been quite a wait. Into only its second year this time around, the Formula One Airtel Indian Grand Prix was expected to be bigger, better and more organized. Now that it’s done, it was neither bigger nor better organized. It was, however, better. I think it’s fair to paint a picture for everyone before I get on with the intricate-ish details.
Narain Karthikeyan was the first ever Indian driver in Formula One. After a one year stint in 2005 with the Jordan F1 team, where he scored only five points by finishing fourth (Out of just six cars running by the way) in the Indianapolis Grand Prix that year, Narain moved on to a testing role for the legendary Williams F1 team. From there on, he moved around the now defunct A1 GP grid, then to Le Mans & NASCAR and back to F1 last year. He, however, isn’t the only Indian with F1 experience. Karun Chandhok has also raced in F1 for Hispania (HRT now) Team & Lotus (Now Caterham).
While most will argue that the two have been fairly insignificant on the grid, I beg to differ. Let’s put this into perspective. This season we have 24 drivers who drive the race, and another 12-odd who test cars during the free practice sessions and oblige with other track work. One of the guys on the grid at every race this season has been Narain Karthikeyan. And that is a big, big deal simply because talent is as important as the car in Formula One, just take a look at Team-Mate Wars in F1 and you will get why a Fernando Alonso is the number one driver for Scuderia Ferrari.
Apart from having Indians on the grid, there’s a team with the colours of the Indian Flag –the Sahara Force India team. And this team is one that constantly scores points and fights with the likes of Lotus Renault, Sauber, and even Williams. Quite a few legendary names there!
Run by one Mr. Vijay Mallaya, this team is one that’s been quite active since the light started shining at the end of the Indian Grand Prix tunnel. While everyone was sceptical about the race actually going through last year, the organizers, the Jaypee Group, pulled off quite a show with over 90,000 spectators showing up on the race day, and then winning multiple awards, including one from the FIA itself! While everyone agreed that the track was a brilliant one, there were a few glitches that were overlooked primarily because firstly, it was the first time this was ever done, and secondly, because they didn’t really affect the race too much.
Fast forward to October 2012 and it was time for the 2012 Airtel Indian Grand Prix. But there was trouble. Not enough tickets were sold! By the weekend of the race, the organizers expected slightly over 60,000 spectators to show up for the day of the race; and that is a big, big worry. Now, I know what you’re thinking, low ticket sales is a factor of the pricing and the first race had a novelty factor. And that is true.
Let’s start with the positives first. The track was far better than last year because there was less dust, all the facilities were up and running, feedback from the drivers and Formula One Management had been incorporated into the track and the drivers had experience on the track –which basically means that they know the track better, and can hence plan their strategies a whole lot better– all resulting in some very exciting action for the spectators.
And that’s what we got for the most part. Fernando Alonso’s move on the two McLarens on the first lap was a delight for everyone. While Sebastian Vettel did steal the show by leading the race from start to finish, not to mention being fastest in all practice sessions and then taking pole, Fernando Alonso drove the wheels off that Ferrari to finish second. The action was spread out across the field with Bruno Senna & Nico Rosberg putting in quite a fight for tenth position, and, of course, Felipe Massa’s all-race defence of his sixth position from Kimi Raikkonen.
Entertainment on the track in the form of the Formula One race, which was preceded by support races in the form of the MRF Challenge and JK Asia Racing Series. Off the track, the organizers thought it was a good idea to have Shaan, and Vishal and Shekhar perform right before the race, along with six college performing groups (Not just bands by the way). Right after the race, the legendary Carlos Santana played a show 10 kilometres from the track, and then there were super affluent parties at LAP, the entry for which was either by invite or a walk-in fee of something like Rs. 25,000. The race was good fun and it was very relevant to the 2012 Championship. So all good there!
There were multiple negatives though. The organizers seem to have not learnt too much from last year with respect to traffic management it seems. Traffic movement was slow, very slow. The food on the track for spectators was awful; I threw away a highly overpriced sandwich into the bin after eating two bites; and this was the story for most of the food on offer. There was beer though, always a positive! Something called the F1 Village, where a few teams set up their merchandise shops, was an interesting place to be in, especially since we don’t really get Formula One merchandise too easily around here. What’s sad as a Formula One fan is the turnout, just over 60,000 people turned up for the race day, and that’s a big point of concern as I had mentioned earlier. Now, there is word that a five year contract was signed for hosting the F1 at the Buddh International Circuit, but it begs the question if we will see F1 stay beyond that. For a leman like me, it doesn’t make too much commercial sense if the turnout is going to be just about 60 per cent of total capacity.
While the circuit is set to host the Volkswagen Polo Cup, World Superbike Series & Formula E, amongst the many events that we’ve heard of, I’d personally love to see the circuit becoming a mecca for motorsports, much like Nurburgring in Germany is. Obviously we keep hearing about car launches, driving academies and track days, but that might not be enough to take this track to its full potential. What we need is a very strong local motorsports program along with the international events. And a fan base will of course help!
The Buddh International Circuit’s Facebook page is fairly active, with over 150,000 fans and constant updates on whatever’s happening at the track; that’s a start. The next step, in my opinion, would be to create proper fans by opening the track for the general public to experience, mostly through track days. And finally, make tickets cheaper and the race weekends more entertaining. I think the NH7 Weekender at the Buddh International Circuit was a fantastic event, even though it had nothing to do with the Formula One race. Creating an actual festival around race weekends, in my opinion, is the way forward. That’s what Singapore has done, and that’s what Abu Dhabi has done. These races have artists to the tune of Maroon 5, Nickelback and Katy Perry amongst others playing after the race. Now that’s a weekend I’d gladly pay a week’s wage for!
From an Editorial Contributor