12/12/2011

2011 Indian Grand Prix Review

In September, 2008 F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone announced that the first Indian GP will happen in 2011 and in less than 2 years time we witnessed the first ever Indian GP from 28th to 30th October, 2011 at the Buddh International Circuit. It was a proud for all of us Indians and a dream come true for all the Indian motorsport fanatics. The event was adjudged as a huge success and the promoters Jaypee Sports were applauded for all their hard work. I went for the GP and yes I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The Race:

The race went off well in the end. Yes, it was quite dusty out there which didn’t help the drivers to overtake much. Before the race it was expected that we will see a large number of overtaking moves but that didn’t happen, much to the disappointment of the fans. The main reason was due to large amount of dust off the racing line. Still, we were happy that we got the first hand experience of the sound & the cars which was enough. Then the Lewis-Massa spat grew more, with a gritty fight between Webber & Alonso in front, while there was a strong fight for position in the midfield pack. Vettel led from front throughout the race & won it with ease. Lone Indian Karthikeyan fought well to end at P17. I hope next year, we will see a lot more action on track.

The Crowd:

When I got to my seat on Friday morning in the South Zone, Block F at T10-T11, I didn’t see a huge crowd to be honest. From my seat I could see most of the other stands in East & West zones and most of the seats were empty. But then I thought it’s just Friday morning and only the start. By the end of the day we had a decent crowd for the first day but knowledge wise it was not even close to decent on any day. For qualifying, it was considerably a large crowd than Friday. It was good to see so many people in almost all the stands. The scene totally changed on Sunday as it was almost full, not many seats were empty. The officials later declared that 50,000 people came on Saturday while 95,000 came on Sunday. Now, that is a huge number for a first GP in a country which is still developing in motorsport arena.

Celebrities & Politicians:

Host of celebrities ushered on the raceday, more so cricketers as most of the players from Indian Cricket team were there for the event. Most notably Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar who was invited by Bernie Ecclestone himself. He also waved the che flag at the end of the race. Other cricketers include Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, etc were all present at the event. Bollywood star Gulshan Grover, singers, MTV VJ Ranvijay were too there all in support of the first Indian GP. As for the politicians we had UP Chief Minister Mayawati on the podium to give Vettel the winners trophy. Notably, Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken was missing and this too had to do with controversy. No event goes without any controversy in India, sad but true.

The Event:

The event was a huge success, it was well co-ordinated effort. There were just praise from every corner for the whole event. The International media were awestruck with the track preparation, yes there were things to be done or hastily done but that’s okay with regard to it being the first GP here. After a shameful organisation of CWG last year, all of us were keeping our fingers crossed for the event to go without any hiccups and it did in the end. All the drivers, teams, media & officials were satisfied with all the arrangements. I give the organisers a 7/10 for their effort, they did a good job.

From a fan point of view, two things can be looked after for the next GP: first being the transport. The people with car park ticket & bus tickets were in the safe zone but those without had a tough time. I for one didn’t get a bus ticket and so had to avail the Park & Ride service, while going to the circuit I had no problems but while coming back, it was all mess. There were not many buses first of all and in the limited buses plying everyone was just pushed and pulled each other to get in. It was a sorry state of affairs really, more so for the foreigners. Even the in-circuit transport can be a bit better. The second thing is food, which was on the expensive side. Well, in these events food is generally expensive but I think some items could have been less expensive and even the quality could have been better.

Indian Motorsport:

Having an International circuit in your own country is really a boon for motorsports to excel in the country. India is still developing as a motorsport nation at the moment and we have only two driver in the F1 world namely Narain Karthikeyan & Karun Chandhok and one team namely Sahara Force India (owned by Dr.Vijay Mallya). There are few drivers in the junior level but none looking very good for a F1 drive for the moment. With the BIC open, I think the second last piece of the puzzle is solved as it gives the young Indian drivers a place to polish their skills. Of course the last piece of the puzzle is the young drivers wanting to become racers. It’s unfortunate that not many want to take up motorsport and those who want end up in midway due to lack of monetary support. I hope in future we see some driving academy being opened in and around BIC and it helps and supports the drivers with finance & motivation.

Drivers & Teams Thoughts:

Even before the race took place or the practice session, the teams and drivers were highly impressed by the track and the facilities of the track. The heaps of praises continued after they drove on the track. They even adjudged this is as the best new track to be built in recent times. The fast flowing nature of the corners, the long straights and a wide track for overtaking just gave the drivers what they want.

So, the first Indian GP all in all went well. It did face loads of problems, notably from the Sports Ministry as they sadly don’t “recognize” F1 as a “sport” and slot it as an “entertainment”, which is a shame really. There were many tax related troubles but thankfully the Jaypee group took full care of it and didn’t let it hinder the race. This has been the most disappointed part that the sports ministry was not backing the race, though they pretty much gained a lot out of the event in monetary terms. It’s foolish to compare that F1 is rich man’s sport. No sports in the world is cheap, every sport involves large amount of money. Bringing in the poverty debate is just illogical, every country has considerable people below the poverty line, unfortunately we all have to live with it. I seriously hope that the sports ministry sit and talk with top F1 officials, drivers and “learn” about the sport and back the event which is bringing lots of opportunity for India. We have to look at the positives, a large section of the viewers were from Europe which for other sports is very less. I hope that by the next race, there be some initiative by both the parties to help the sport to grow in the country.

To read about my Indian GP journey, click here.

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