Formula 1 happened at last on October 30, 2011 at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in NOIDA.
The event was awe-inspiring, not for the drivers, teams and entourages; more so for Formula 1 wannabes who flocked to grace the momentous occasion.
It made no difference to Sebastian Vettel; it was just another race to be won—which he did.
I, for one, was not too impressed by the hype and the hoopla.
Sure, the Indian GP showcased the triumph of private entrepreneurship and organisation over government ineptitude; there were no bloopers this time around unlike at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
A couple of stray dogs and goof-ups in last-minute emergency rehearsals could not disguise the fact that given adequate resources and talent, Indian management can rise to the occasion.
Bouquets and Brickbats
Bernie Ecclestone was suitably impressed.
“India should be very proud that a private enterprise has achieved this. Everything is super, it just needed a bit of polish. It needs to be tidied up which doesn’t take time.”
The Formula 1 boss lauded the Buddh circuit.
“We wanted to make sure that this was built a particular way. We wanted to make sure it comes out well on TV. Circuits are usually flat but there’s a bit of elevation here so it looks good on TV. And it has,” Ecclestone said.
“I’d said before the weekend that we needed three things to make this race a success: Good crowd, media support and a track that the drivers will enjoy. I think India has delivered on all counts.”
Celebrities, film stars and sports stars made it a point to be visible at the grand theatre.
There were, however, others like PT Usha and Sports Minister, Ajay Maken, who flung spanners into the celebrations.
PT Usha said that she did not consider F1 to be a sport.
Speaking to Press Trust of India (PTI), Usha said:
I feel very bad because such hi-fi business has nothing to do with 99% of Indians. It is a criminal waste (of money). First, Twenty20 cricket spoiled the spirit of Indian sports, and now here comes another avatar which will mostly attract corporate money, who (Corporate) rarely spend for sports promotion. Only God can save the Indian sports.
Maken went further and refused the Jaypee Group a Rs. 100 crore subsidy promised the Mayawati’s UP government.
The sports minister tweeted:
“When F1 is flagged off, as sports minister I am laying foundation stone for 5 cr synthetic track at P.T. Usha‘s academy in Koyilandi near Calicut.”
To answer the first question, “Is Formula 1 a sport?”
It’s debatable. From Formula 1 drivers of the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and India’s Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.
Speed racers are among the fittest sportspersons on the planet. Having to withstand forces up to several Gs requires lithe, supple muscles and an especially strong neck.
But there remains a question mark, “Is it equitable?”
It’s rarely the most skilful driver who comes out on top. Machine triumphs man, so to speak. If your team has the better machine, then the odds are heavily stacked in your favour, all other things being equal or maybe less so.
And so it is, that Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton arguably better drivers than current champion Vettel flail in the German’s wake.
The other question that then arises, “Is F1 for the masses?”
Undoubtedly, no. In a country of 1.2 billion+, to have two Formula 1 contenders is an anomaly that serves to highlight the income disparities in the country.
Cricket, the No. 1 sport, has in recent years managed to shake off the legacy of being an upper-middle class domain with the influx of B and C-town cricketers.
A couple of decades ago, the likes of Irfan and Yousuf Pathan or even a Munaf Patel would never had stood a chance to even turn out for state sides.
Now, they are gems on display in the national squad (OK, maybe not Irfan).
Yet, for youngsters to take up a sport such as tennis or cricket, requires immense sacrifices from their families.It remains the path less trod.
Catching a Formula 1 race is like watching one of the air-shows every year; you know it’s highly unlikely that you or your kids will be piloting one of those.
The chances are remote but in comparison more probable or possible than being a Formula 1 driver. All you (or your kids) need to do is apply to the Indian Air Force.
The training is subsidised. Not so with Formula 1.
How many can afford to pay for a kid’s go-karting stints?
And how many go-karting facilities exist in the country?
Jackie Stewart, ‘The Flying Scot’, commented on the Indian GP:
What India has made (the Buddh International Circuit) is remarkable. I drove around the circuit and it is one of the best in the world. But that is not enough for the progress of Indian motorsports. You guys gotta create a bunch of racing drivers at the highest level.
We need to get more and more Indians racing in Formula cars. The infrastructure needs to be put in place. I see there are not many race tracks in India.
Stewart feels that India should breed fresh talent after Chandhok and Karthikeyan:
Look they are good but they have been around long enough. Karthikeyan used to drive for my team in Formula 3 and he was bloody quick at that time. But it is time to move on. We need 5-6 Indian drivers at the world level. You can’t expect two drivers to be successful in Formula One. If India has four drivers, the UK has 10 and Germany 15, then obviously you are not going to go anywhere.
Stewart, on another note, lamented the lack of women drivers in the sport:
We must have a woman racing in F1. Can you imagine the kind of money that she can make from the sport?It will be more than the man. She could endorse so many more brands than her male counterpart. There should be woman on the track.
Formula 1 is not very exciting to watch, definitely not on television. There are few overtaking manoeuvres.Ecclestone and his cronies have made attempts to remedy this.
However, the sport continues to be dominated by pit-stop strategies and pole positions. Once a driver is out in front, the chasers rarely have a chance to go past.
On television, it makes for “zzzzzzz”. Perhaps, the roar of turbo-charged engines on the circuit is enough excitement for on-site spectators.
But , tell me frankly, how many of the ‘have-to-see-and-be-seen’ page three ‘dynamos’ will be there next year and the years after?
Is there the same passion in their veins? Are they truly the ‘fans’ the sport and its administrative bodies would like to cultivate?
“No one is ever ordinary. ”
- PT Usha: What she said, really meant and definitely did not (maketimeforsports.com)
- Formula One: Karun Chandhok Regrets That Not All His Fans Can Go-Kart (maketimeforsports.com)