So the day finally arrived. Cars that most Indians mostly saw on television screens were actually racing out there inIndia. One cannot but nod in consent with Narain Karthikeyan, who, when asked about his views on the Indian Grand Prix, said the other day, “I never thought in my racing career that I would be racing in India, and here we are just around the corner.”
F1 kicked off in the country on Friday with Karun Chandhok missing the seat to drive in the Indian Grand Prix, which he had so eagerly looked forward to. “It is bit like Santa Claus has given me a present in the morning but I have to give it back in the morning,” he said.
We all know Chandhok is a professional and although there would be disappointments, he is a team player after all. As he himself put it, “Everyone knows how I feel but the professional thing to do is to be a team player, keep smiling and do the best job that I can with the opportunities that I’m given.”
Lewis Hamilton led the way on the inaugural Friday practice, setting the pace a whole 0.5 seconds clear than Sebastian Vettel. With a mixture of long straights and high-speed corners, Buddh International Circuit promised to be a fast track where speeds reached in excess of 300 kmph.
But the limelight soon vanished as Hamilton and Sergio Perez were penalised three grid positions for Sunday’s race for ignoring the yellow flags in the first Friday practice. Felipe Massa topped the list in the second practice, an indicator that Ferrari wasn’t to be left behind.
Day Two, Saturday
Metallica’s cancelled show at Gurgaon on Friday made news for a while before it was washed away with the excitement of the final practice session and the qualifying. With questions flowing from the floor on the circuit, and about the infrastructure in general, the organisers got a thumbs-up from everyone, including the big man with a small frame himself — Bernie Ecclestone.
The sports minister not being invited was discussed a fair bit in the media but in my opinion it is best left to the organisers and their relationship with the sports ministry. After all, F1 is a private event.
Talking about the qualifying, Red Bull finally arrived and Vettel, the world champion, raced away to glory to claim the first ever pole at the Indian Grand Prix and Red Bull’s 16th pole in a season (a record with still two races to go). Mark Webber was promoted to second after Lewis Hamilton was dropped three places to fifth due to a penalty.
Alonso and Button made up the second row.
For all Schumey fans, it was disappointing to not see him in the top 10. Samir Gaur, head of Jaypee Group for the F1 project, an ardent fan of Michael Schumacher, hoped, like millions of others, he comes out good in the race. ForceIndia’s Sutil was on eighth, while Paul di Resta qualified 12th.
Narain Karthikeyan started the race from behind on the last row of the grid.
What I missed the most was the fact I was not on the race track watching it. The race started at 3 pm and 60 laps of racing covering a distance of 307.2 km in a little over 90 minutes. It started off with Jarno Trulli spinning off at Turn 3, Michael making up three places and Button passing Webber to take the second position.
Much later in the race, an incident involving Lewis Hamilton andMassaspoilt any chances of them fighting for the podium. Massa eventually retired due to a suspension failure, while Hamilton had to contain himself behind the two Mercedes of Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
Apart from that, there weren’t much spectacular overtaking, probably one reason being the huge wide track space that was available.
Overall, at the end of 60 laps, the organisers can take a lot of pride in conducting the first ever Grand Prix inIndia. Sachin Tendulkar, a huge F1 fan was given the honour to wave the chequered flag, like Pele does it regularly at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Continuing his superb run of victories this season, Vettel collected his 11th title of the season, equaling Michael Schumacher’s record in a season (2002). With two races to go, Vettel has every chance to equal the all-time record of 13 victories in a season (2004, again Michael Schumacher). Besides winning the race, he also had the fastest lap and to go with the pole position.
Jenson Button came second and Alonso nursed his Ferrari to take the last place on the podium.
Force India’s Sutil finished ninth, while Paul Di Resta finished 13th.
Karthikeyan, with his weak machinery, could manage only 17th. However, he can take pride from the fact that he is the first Indian to drive an F1 car (2005) and also drive his home Grand Prix. Schumacher had one of his best drives of the season, coming ahead of his teammate in fifth position.
And surprise, surprise — UP chief minister Mayawati presented the winner’s trophy in a Grand Prix held in her own state, though the official title being Indian Grand Prix, New Delhi.
Every new event brings in an element of curiosity and a sense of buzz that goes in the paddock, and the feeling was no different with the Indian Grand Prix. India was new to a lot of people from the F1 world, and they lapped up the Indian hospitality in style — trying out new cuisine, visiting places nearby and making a few appearances for sponsors and other events. Alonso, being a Unicef ambassador, did his part by visiting a pediatric hospital in the capital and gave Diwali gifts to the children being treated there.
Before the race, the F1 fraternity paid respect by observing silence in the memory of two men from motor sports who lost their lives last week while racing: Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli.
Last year, this time around,Indiawas being thrashed by the world sporting fraternity for its inability to host global sports events — remember the CWG embarrassment?. There is still a long way to go but if this weekend were to be any indicator, I can safely say we have moved on and learnt our lessons from last year.
Drivers and teams with full praises at the end of the race is a strong boost andIndiacan and will go better, provided we do not rest on our laurels. The inaugural Airtel Indian Grand Prix was definitely a success story and will remain an important milestone to many more future events.
But with each success comes expectations, so let’s see how Jaypee Group lives up to these expectations. After all, Formula One was one among the many sports projects the group has taken up.