It’s that time again. It seems like only yesterday that India made its debut on the F1 World Championship calendar amid much furore. But here we are once again, all set to host the third edition of the Indian Grand Prix. While it is difficult to match the reception and novelty of the maiden event in its third running, the likelihood of Sebastian Vettel clinching his fourth Driver’s world championship on Indian soil has certainly made it an event to look forward to with excitement.
Back in 2011, Vettel arrived in India as a double world champion and bulldozed the opposition with a dominant pole-to-flag victory. And 12 months later, in 2012, those hoping for a different result were destined to be disappointed yet again. Vettel took his fourth straight win and erased any hopes of a competitive fight, in a season which earlier had seen seven different winners from the first seven races.
His 2012 title rival Fernando Alonso arrived in India with a six-point deficit to the championship leader and, despite putting up a relentless fight to eventually finish second, left for Abu Dhabi 13 points behind. He eventually went on to concede the title to Vettel at the season finale in Brazil.
This year again, the main protagonists in the championship remain the same, albeit the situation is closer to 2011 than to last year. The ‘situation’ refers to the extent of Vettel’s advantage, as his current lead over Alonso in the standings (more than three victories’s worth) may see him being crowned as the youngest-ever four-time world champion at the Buddh International Circuit.
While both the earlier Indian GPs might have been uneventful, barring a few spills, there was plenty to keep track of, well, off-track. In the debut year, of course, there was speculation about the track’s likely readiness and widespread fears that the paddock would be struck down with ‘Delhi Belly’ (which unfortunately became a self-fulfilling prophecy for some!).
The build-up had been quite frantic for the Jaypee Group as construction activity was ongoing 24x7 during the final weeks leading up to the event. The severe fast-forwarding left behind a few rough edges, like a drainage malfunction which blocked sinks and drained sewage back into the team buildings, and a few power-cuts – one notably during the Thursday press conference.
But despite the niggles, everyone seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the organised chaos. The drivers spoke highly of the undulating layout – the fast, flowing middle sector in particular. Bollywood stars, cricketers and celebrities (Rowan Atkinson aka Mr Bean was there) flocked the paddock and, at the end of it, the F1 circus left India with some great memories.
Post the inaugural race, the organisers decided to close the track down for a few months to smoothen out the issues and ensure that the circuit and facility were in top nick well in time for the next edition of the event. And indeed, everything went like clockwork. The race was run with military precision, and at no time did things feel any different to any other race in the world which could have been running for 20 years.
And yet again, there was plenty to talk about in the paddock – the most publicised being the Ferrari controversy when the team announced that it would be running the Italian Navy flag on both its cars in support of the two Italian Navy officers who were under trial in India at the time. It was considered a case of mixing politics with sports, which is prohibited in the FIA International Sporting Code, but the team was lucky to get away with it without any serious consequences.
What to expect?
Having seen a number of races and track days in the recent months, including the MRF and JK National championship races, means that the circuit asphalt will be in far better shape when the drivers line up at the pit exit for the first free practice session on Friday.
Apart from that, Pirelli has elected to bring in soft and medium compounds to India this time around, as the hard tyre had proved a bit too durable for the circuit in the past two outings. The extremely smooth track surface along with October-end’s moderate track temperatures had meant that the degradation was extremely low, and all frontrunners were able to complete the race on a one-stop strategy last year.
The 2013 Indian GP will be the last occasion for Indian fans to watch V8-powered cars on home ground, with F1 switching to 1.6-litre V6 engines next season. Also, with drivers like Mark Webber and, most likely, Felipe Massa bidding farewell to F1, it will be the last chance to see them in action as well.
This will also be the first Indian Grand Prix without a home driver on the grid – Narain Karthikeyan chose to discontinue in Formula 1 after his HRT outfit folded at the end of last season. In absence of a home driver to cheer on, the Sahara Force India team will be the only Indian connection on the grid.
After a strong start to the season, a slew of retirements and non-points finishes in the second half have left Sahara Force India languishing in sixth place behind McLaren, who have enjoyed resurgence in form in the same period.
Most of all, the fans will look forward to this race knowing that it will not come back for the next year. While the Jaypee Group has vowed that the absence is a one-off, it is clear that they are struggling to make the Indian round of the F1 championship commercially viable.
Ticket prices have been further slashed this year, with a three-day season ticket for the Natural/Picnic stands costing a mere Rs 2000, while main Grandstand season tickets will cost Rs 21,000 and Rs 15,000 for the lower and upper tiers respectively.
So no excuse then for missing out on the fastest cars and the best drivers in the world battle on home ground, is there?
For information on tickets, click here.