And they're back!By Abhay Verma
Continuing from where my former editor Sirish Chandran left last year, the inaugural Indian F1 GP was a dream come true to attend. Ever since I took charge of the motorsport section early in 2009, I had been a regular in the Madras Motor Race Track and Kari Motor Speedway covering races, meeting racers and the biggies from the FMSCI et al. But to think of myself as an accredited journalist covering F1 in India was unimaginable. But it happened last year and it happened this year again. But pretty much to my disappointment I was accredited only as a journalist this year, and not a photo journalist, and got just a paddock pass – this meant that I would not be able to enter the pitlane or go out on track to shoot.
This was a letdown, but just the fact that once again I would be in the the media centre that is nestled in the paddock with all the team buildings was exciting enough. Taking the Yamuna Expressway (that was opened to the general public a few months back) to access the Buddh International Circuit was a delight in itself, and thankfully getting to the media accreditation centre was a lot easier due to the several sign boards along the Expressway and off it. Cheerfulness was prevalent everywhere, and as promised by JPSI last year, there was a sea change in the facilities – whatever was incomplete had been finished and cleaned up, the media centre had been spruced up and so had the paddock. Interestingly, huge interest was shown by Indian companies this year, and everyone associated with Formula One teams – manufacturers, suppliers and so on were vying for attention.
This meant better accessibility for us, as we got a host of interactions with the teams. I got a chance to interact with team principals like Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing), Ross Brawn, Norbert Haug (Mercedes AMG F1), Mark Smith (Caterham), Monisha Kaltenborn (Sauber F1), apart from drivers like Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa. The limited space in the magazine has not allowed me to write about the interactions, but you can watch them on OVERDRIVE's YouTube channel. These initiatives once again cement the fact that manufacturer involvement in any way is the way forward. To think of Indian manufacturers showing the kind of interest in motorsport they showed at the Indian GP this year was impossible just a couple of years back, but the huge efforts by the Jaypee Group and the FMSCI have made F1 a reality in the country and how. The positivity was worth noting, and everyone – right from team mechanics to drivers to team bosses, and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone himself were pleased with the improvements and were all praise for the Buddh International Circuit – the facilities, the track, the marshals all were spot on.
Despite not having pitlane access I got lucky on Friday, thanks to Nissan India. With Renault supplying engines to Red Bull Racing (my favourite team!), the Renault-Nissan alliance saw Nissan India arrange paddock club passes for us. This gave me a chance to get up close and personal with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber’s race cars, and listen to the team radio. Spending a few minutes listening to the radio made me realise how important a tool it is and that what we listen to on television during the races is just a fraction of all the communication. Further, with Renault now supplying engines to MRF for its new Formula 2000 racer, the French manufacturer had organised a special event to unveil the MRF Formula 2000 before the weekend, where we had Mark Webber take us for hot laps around a specially created track in Greater Noida in Renault’s road cars. Sitting shotgun with him was a great experience, and turns out to be that the Australian is as fond of his Porsches as much as his Infinitis! The Mercedes AMG garage tour was another learning experience, as I got to see an F1 car’s steering wheel really closely for the first time, and also got a crash course on its functions.
The support series were as exciting, with some of the country’s best racers out on track in the JK Racing Asia Series and the MRF Challenge 2012. There were no changes to the JK RAS cars, but MRF’s new Formula 2000, now the country’s most powerful single seater, made its debut that weekend. The MRF Challenge had Parthiva Sureshwaran, Parth Ghorpade and Ashwin Sundar competing, and Parthiva was the best finisher of the three with a 7th and 10th place finish. Ashwin finished 8th behind Parthiva in race 1, but could not start race 2 due to a driveshaft failure in the formation lap. Parth had a forgettable weekend – minutes before race 1 his car had an electrical problem and he was unable to start. He moved up a few places in race 2, but a steering issue forced him to retire in the third lap. The JK RAS races boasted of a strong Indian grid, with as many as seven Indian names. The biggest were Aditya Patel and Akhil Khushlani, along with Raj Bharath, Vishnu Prasad, Karminder Singh, Akhil Rabindra and Chetan Korada.
Aditya created history in the first JK RAS race, becoming the first Indian ever to climb onto the BIC podium. A hard fought third place finish saw him achieve the feat even as Akhil fought his way to fourth. Race 2 was even better with Aditya finishing second, scoring his first double podium finish in the JK RAS and at the BIC. Post the support races the action in the Formula One race completed the weekend in all respects – Vettel’s second consecutive win in the Indian GP brought him closer to becoming the youngest triple champion, even as Alonso put in a splendid drive to finish second ahead of Webber. Overall, the second Indian GP was a huge success – despite the concerns caused initially by slow ticket sales. The turn out on Sunday was between 65,000 to 70,000, really impressive for a country like ours where unlike Europe or America a very small percentage of the population follows the sport. Having said that, the success of the second Indian GP tells me that motorsport has finally arrived in the country.