In some ways, both South Korea and India share some similarities, the greatest of which is that neither of them is truly a motorsporting nation. Yet, following a fairly dull race in Korea, in spectating terms at least, the circus moves to another part of the Asian continent, the one renowned for playing a dashed good game of cricket. Whether Hamilton or Schumacher will play in ‘Silly Mid Off’ remains to be seen but Vettel is ‘on the crease’ and hoping not to be bowled out by Button, although Iain Robertson is certain that the outfield will not be tyre-marked.
// But It's Just Not Cricket...
There exists a small tea-cloth manufacturer in England, which has made a fortune from selling its dish towels to foreign visitors. Take a holiday, anywhere in Britain, at its bustling seaside resorts, with their ‘Kiss Me Quick!’ hats and sugary sweets, around its stately homes and castles, of which there are many, or any tourist haunt selling picture postcards and commemorative memorabilia and you are sure to spot the tea-towels among the bric-a-brac.
One of that little company’s printed items has the Rules of Cricket explained in painstaking legend, with cartoon-like swathes of wisteria, images of the stumps and bails and a typical Village Green emblazoned upon it. I own one. It is in the towel drawer, in the kitchen. It is used to dry the dishes, when not using the dishwashing machine. Can I comprehend its rules? Nope. Did I ever understand, even when forced to play cricket at school? Nope.
Imagine the situation in India. At one time, pre-Partition, India was a British dependency. While it is suggested that the cue games of snooker and billiards (you guys have pool, in its various forms) also originated in India, with the British Army billeted there, cricket was the central focus. It remains so today and the Indian national team plays with varying degrees of success against its main rivals from Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and, of course, Blighty (that‘s a slang name for Great Britain, which also originated in India).
Naturally, there are cricket clubs elsewhere in the world, not least in Texas, which operates its own league. My personal memory of cricket involves hearing my first official swear word (uttered by my batsman father, which, repeated to my sandwich-slicing mother, in the cricket pavilion, resulted in a slapped face at the age of eight years). It was not an auspicious start and set up an innate detestation of the game that lives with me to the present day.
// FAST-TRACK DEVELOPMENTS
Of course, India has attracted international news attention in recent years, for the phenomenal growth of its economy. While extreme poverty is still an issue in a country that is overcrowded with people, its fast growing middle and upper class structures are performing miracles with all manner of enterprises, both industrial and commercial. In fact, some of the wealthiest business people in the world are Indians.
The location of a racing circuit in Uttar Pradesh, near Delhi, which is one of the poorest regions of India, came under fire right until the first Indian GP was held at the Buddh Circuit last October. Described variously as insensitive, possessing catwalk vanity and an air of boffin-like self-obsession, you might have believed fairly that a nation of cricket-lovers would have hosted a revolt like no other.
Yet, they did not. In fact, they grasped the nettle, gave a maiden victory to Vettel and declared that they could scarcely wait to spend the income from the venture. The venue was sold out last year and looks very likely to achieve a similar goal this year, even though a lot of local critics questioned the need for so many celebrities to be present at the inaugural race, because they wanted to see racing cars at the peak of their performance potential and very few of them came away disappointed.
Respected author and sports economist, Boria Majumdar, stated that India needs Grand Prix. He also highlighted that the upwardly mobile classes in India are larger in number than the populations of many other nations and he included Britain in his comments. Interestingly enough, India has not been as badly troubled by the world’s recession as some countries have been. A lot of Indian people sought a means by which to spend their money and Grand Prix has now given them that opportunity.
The circuit facilities were funded privately and not by government, unlike the purpose-built venues in both China and South Korea. This is beneficial from the view that its future prosperity depends entirely on the success of its events and the revenues generated, rather than being forced to compromise by any shift in political focus. It also helps that two top drivers, Karun Chandhok, from Madras (test driver for Lotus in 2011) and Narain Karthikeyan, also from Madras (HRT), are playing for the home team, albeit with only one of them in the first division.
As India’s method of informing the world that it has arrived and can play fairly on an international stage, it is a worthy venture. Be under no illusion, Bernie Ecclestone is fully aware of both the social burden and the commercial potential, although security barricades erected five miles out from the circuit , effectively ring-fencing the venue and demanding only the correct passes to gain access, do not present the warmest of welcomes.
If India can rise above the inevitable dichotomy of an F1 sporting activity, just as cricket does, mocking at the co-existence of destitute poverty and excessive wealth, then it should reap the broader benefits. As long as the marketing exponents can live with that, the Indian GP will have a most positive future.
// LAPPING THE BUDDH
At 5.125 kilometres in length, the Indian GP circuit is not dissimilar to several other Hermann Tilke-designed racing venues. It is located in the Jaypee Greens Sports City, an immense development that incorporates a 100,000-seat cricket stadium, a 25,000-seat field hockey arena and an 18-hole golf course (which should please some of the F1 team members).
Featuring one of the longest back straights in F1, drivers can expect to exceed 200mph before braking for a typically tight Tilke hairpin. The pit-lane is also one of the longest, which will make race strategies a key factor. The overtaking opportunities are good, which will create better viewing than South Korea did. The circuit rises by fourteen metres within the first three bends, which helps to provide some gradient change, to factor in some additional driver interest, and Sebastian Vettel has already declared that he loves the circuit…but, then, he won there last time out, so he kind of would…
Starting alongside the main grandstand, the cars accelerate hard up to Turn 1, a right-hander, which, on the first lap, is sure to cause some clashing of wheels and the loss of a few end-plates from front-end aerodynamic packages. Pulling around 2.6g, in third gear, travelling at around 80mph, the cars pull another high-g (2.9-3.0) at 120mph around Turn 2 and the Picnic Stand, a fast and long left-hander that follows.
After only the briefest of straights, it is hard on the brakes for the second gear right-hander at Turn 3. Once again, the drivers will feel the excitement of high centrifugal energy, as they fight the head sway to the outside of what amounts to a hairpin bend. However, from the Classic Stand North, to the Star Stands at Turn 4, a right-hander, one of the longest straights in F1 (just over a kilometre) will provide some respite and give the drivers a chance to remove some tear-offs and sort themselves out.
Turn 4 is moderately tight and can be demanding on the Pirellis but the next short straight to the fast left-hander at Turn 5 and the run to a lovely but challenging sequence of chicanes allows the cars to settle nicely. Turn 5 will whack the g-meter to 4.0 and slightly higher, as the cars course through in fifth gear at around 135mph.
Turn 6 is a quick left-hander with a blind exit into the right-hand Turn 7, the first of the chicanes, followed by a short straight into the high-g Turn 8 to the right, leading almost immediately into the slightly slower Turn 9 to the left. It is a sequence that the drivers love. However, the challenge continues by placing a massive load on the tyre walls at Turn 10 to the right, which leads through a multi-apex to Turn 11, with even more sidewall pressure, and then Turn 12, the slight kink to the left, by which point the cars have left behind the 4.0g Turn 11 and are accelerating to well in excess of 160mph. This section of the circuit demands a lot of skill and not everybody will get it right first time out but it also presents some opportunistic overtaking.
Turns 13 and 14 constitute a very rapid, high-g (3.7-4.0) left-right that will have drivers’ helmets bashed from one side of the cockpit to the other in quick succession. After a brief straight, it is back into a ninety-degree right-hander at Turn 15, taken in third gear at around 95mph, followed by the tightening effect of Turn 16 to the left, which also provides the entry point to the pit-lane (spearing off to the right-hand side), and the start-finish line, to start the whole process all over again.
Whatever it looks like on your TV screen, rest assured, the in-car footage will be stirring stuff and Pirelli will be worked hard. Both the drivers and the media have heaped praise on the circuit and, if the reception is as good as it was in 2011, it should be a tremendous Grand Prix. However, the title race does look as though it might go down to the wire in Brazil, which is a wonderfully enticing prospect for the fans.
Fortunately, Ferrari has re-signed Massa alongside Alonso for next year, which ends the customary speculation currently centred on Vettel and his reputed intentions. There is sure to be more news about other contract renewals by the time the series reaches Texas. Vettel now has one extra win in the bag and one less retirement than Alonso lying second to him prior to the Indian GP. While it is mathematically feasible for Hamilton, Webber and even Jenson Button to wrap their fingers around the stem of the Drivers’ Trophy this year, it does look increasingly as though the top three in the table, Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen, will be monitoring their own actions very carefully over the next four races.