India's big ‘leap of faith'

On song… Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull celebrates on the podium after winning the inaugural Grand Prix of India.-RAJEEV BHATT

A fantastic track. An exciting Grand Prix. A crowd of 95,000 at the venue soaking in the fun. It's a great beginning for India in the fast lane. By Y. B. Sarangi

He came, he saw, he conquered!

Sebastian Vettel not only etched his name in the history book by winning the inaugural F1 race in India, but also left a strong impression in the hearts of millions of motorsport fans in the country. The German's observations about India were a big hit with the local fans who came to witness the Grand Prix of India in large numbers.

The champion's praise of India and the Buddh International Circuit (BIC), which was built in just two years time, put into perspective the country's “leap of faith”. As the European media tried to make their stories more saleable by contrasting India's underprivileged population with the sport of ‘the rich and famous', Vettel touched the right chord while talking of the Grand Prix of India.

“It is great what the people (Jaypee Group) did here in a short amount of time. We heard about it a couple of years ago, but to put up this arena in such short time is incredible. Surely, there are little bits that are not 100 per cent, but now the people know, so they will fix that for the next year. I think all in all it was fantastic,” the Red Bull driver observed after posting his 11th victory of the season.

Vettel's objective assessment of India was even more touching. “It is a very impressive country, very different to what we probably know from Europe, but very inspiring. If you keep your eyes and ears open, I think you are able to learn a lot, the way the people handle things here. It is a big country, a lot of people, sometimes it looks very different, but they are very happy here. They enjoy life and in the end that's what it is all about.

“If your life comes to an end it is more the thoughts, the emotions, the friends you take with you rather than whatever you have in your bank account. Even if people have so little here I think in a way they are much richer than a lot of people back in Europe.”

In a country like India where there's a yawning gap between the rich and the poor and in between is a large chunk of aspiring middle class, the remarkable thing about the $400 million track is that it is purely funded by a private enterprise and there's no public money involved. The track, which many thought would not be completed in time, finally got the verdict in its favour. It received rave reviews from some of the top drivers. It proved to be quick and offered several dramatic experiences to the crowd during the Grand Prix.

While Vettel termed the track as “fantastic”, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher found it to be “a good mixture of all that we like to enjoy.”

Almost every team and every driver had high opinions about the layout of the track and hailed it as a challenging circuit with a good combination of slow and fast corners, long straights and spectacular elevation change. There were a few concerns about dust on the track, which, according to experts, is a normal feature in new circuits. However, the track improved during the course of the event as it was rubbered in each day.

The drivers had to be careful as straying off-line churned up dust. The Indian driver, Narain Karthikeyan, had a different take on this. “It is not dust. It is some kind of sticky thing. Maybe it is the cement kind of thing which has come because of the large amount of construction around the place,” he said.

However, as the circuit matures with time and with greenery around, the dust is bound to settle down, which would make the BIC really encouraging for the drivers.

Despite the scepticism of the Western media about India's capability to host such a mega event, some top teams and drivers saw a lot of potential in the country and foresaw it as a major F1 destination in the future. According to Renault managing director Jean Francois Caubet, India is a strategic market for the future.

The team principal of Sahara Force India, Vijay Mallya, the man who raised the first ever F1 outfit from the country, justified why India should have such a showpiece event. “We have underprivileged people in our country, but that does not mean that the country must be bogged down or weighed down.

“India is a progressive country. We have a strongly growing economy or a large economy.

“The Government is doing all it can to address the needs of the poor or the underprivileged, but India must move on.”

The legendary Schumacher hoped that India would emerge as a hot spot for the sport in the longer run. “India is a very high growing market for technical products. It has some tradition, but it has the will to go for technology.”

The German was optimistic that the inaugural Indian Grand Prix would draw more business houses towards supporting young drivers besides enhancing the interest among the people for the sport.

The event indeed showed first signs of its impact in the country when it accommodated a crowd of 95,000 on the race day. And millions were glued to the television to witness India's arrival on the fast lane.

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Feeling at home…Narain Karthikeyan (Hispania Racing Team) travels in a vintage car during the driver's parade before the start of the Grand Prix of India at the Buddh International Circuit.-PTI

It's all about emotions

The inaugural Grand Prix of India at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida had to be an emotional event for the two home-grown drivers, Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok.

In the build-up to the race, Karthikeyan had admitted that he never thought he would be able take part in a F1 race on his home soil. He was struggling to find the right words to express his emotions after achieving his target.

With his ‘weak' Hispania Racing car, the sole aim of Karthikeyan, who was taking part in a race after a gap of three months, was to complete the Grand Prix of India. He not only managed to finish the race, but also secured the 17th position after overcoming a penalty.

Karthikeyan was slapped with a five-place grid penalty for blocking Michael Schumacher in the qualifying round.

“I had a great Grand Prix and I really enjoyed myself, it was an amazing experience. To finish 17th in my home GP is the best I could have wished for with the car we have and beating my team-mate and one Lotus on the way makes it all the more satisfying,” said Karthikeyan.

The 34-year-old was hopeful that his performance at home would brighten up his chances in the next season.

HRT Team Principal Collin Koles was delighted with Karthikeyan's performance. “I am satisfied with how things went this weekend and I am really happy for Narain because racing in his home GP for the first time is a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.

Chandhok was unlucky to miss out on a drive for Lotus at the BIC. He, however, took it in his stride and backed his team's decision.

Notwithstanding his absence on the race day, Chandhok rightly pointed out that it was a proud moment for the Indians when he and Karthikeyan performed practice laps on Friday.

The other connection for the Indian motorsport fans was the presence of Sahara Force India. The team, which is in sixth place, had to do something special to grab a few points in order to achieve its objective of finishing in the top five.

The results, however, were somewhat mixed for the Indian team. Adrian Sutil ended his pointless run in two races to log a couple of points with his ninth place finish. On the other hand, Paul Di Resta, who started 12th and adopted an aggressive strategy, managed to finish 13th.

The Sahara Force India chief, Vijay Mallya, valued the points earned by Sutil as his team tallied 51 points with two races to go in the season. “These two points are important for us and I am delighted that Sahara Force India will go down in the record books for scoring points in the inaugural Grand Prix of India,” he said.