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The Indian Grand Prix has loomed large on the calendar this year, in equal measures exciting and inspiring anxiety, says Matt Youson, who blogs from New Delhi...

The circuit had a few problems, of course it did, every new grand prix does. But the Buddh International dealt with the problems very well and in good humour. It also helps when you’ve built a good track. People are willing to overlook the lights going out occasionally, and having to detour around earnest men staring into a blocked drain if the track is good. And this track is a belter. Mark Webber was especially chirpy – though that’s probably because he’d found about 1.2 billion new friends who wanted to talk about cricket.

The dark art of batting

On the subject of cricket, the shiny new media centre had a few issues with bats, though not the sort usually employed by Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. One that was none too pleased to have its home invaded by journalists took to dive bombing the assembled press for most of the afternoon, to general merriment and the odd scream. Halloween a couple of days early.

Like the rest of the circuit, on Thursday the media centre was suffering from power cuts. While this wasn’t a massive problem for most, it made life difficult for the commentators setting up in their booths. Industrial secret here: F1 commentators watch the same TV feed as everyone else in the world. Most circuits also give them a window to look out of so they can tell if it’s about to rain but not the Buddh International Circuit. Suddenly plunged into pitch blackness, followed by the flutter of leathery wings… suffice to say we now know which commentator is scared of the dark...  

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Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads…

Despite years of going to races in China, Brazil, Turkey etc., nothing can prepare you for the roads of India. On leaving Indira Gandhi Airport it becomes obvious that the normal rules to not apply. Lane markings are a basis for negotiation, direction is a matter of personal choice. Auto-rickshaws swarm everywhere and riding three-up on a scooter seems like good form, the family version of which is to have a small child perched on the tank, dad driving in the middle and mum riding side-saddle on the back – usually elegantly attired in a sari which somehow doesn’t get tangled in the wheel. Obviously that still leaves room for bags, boxes, the odd propane tank and more often than you’d think, a monkey.


Do Not Enter Sandman

The other big draw was supposed to be a Metallica gig, part of the F1 Rocks circus. This was cancelled on Friday night, officially due to technical reasons, unofficially due to the venue being swamped with people and unable to cope with the numbers. The fans didn’t take too kindly to the cancellation and the subsequent damage to the venue was big news in the local press. Oddly enough in one case next to the report of how good the concert had been. Work in F1 long enough and you’ll experience the pain of seeing your carefully crafted race report ruined by a last lap engine failure or blow out (and yes Kimi Räikkönen at the 2005 European Grand Prix, I’m looking at you). It must be nice working for the paper that decides to print it anyway.   

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The Invisible Enemy

Of course everyone’s real fear was an attack of Delhi Belly. The teams all went to great lengths over the past month to do this race the courtesy of insisting they weren’t concerned with racing in India and were not taking any special precautions. Obviously it was a white lie: the big teams had extra mechanics on standby, alcohol hand rubs and team doctors were conspicuous. Either the precautions worked or it was a lot of fuss about nothing. A few people got ill, as they do at every race, but we didn’t have the mass gastric pandemonium many people were expecting. In fact we haven’t seen one of those since Monaco in May when half of Lotus had the world fall out of their bottoms.  

The competitive urge

Red Bull are adamant they won’t be taking it easy for the rest of the season, but not taking it easy, and not mucking about are two different things, which is why Sebastian Vettel was down in the Pirelli garage on Thursday learning how to fit tyres. In a race against Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery, Seb, with the help of an instructor fitted a tyre to a rim. Professional it wasn’t; gameshow it most certainly was. Paul admitted to not having done it for about 15 years, but even so it was a surprise when Seb emerged the winner. “I controlled the lead to the chequered flag,” he said in deadpan triumph. Paul was magnanimous in defeat – but reckoned Seb’s tyre pressure was rubbish.  

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Hit, miss or maybe

It’s usually obvious when a new race is going to have staying power. Leaving India this morning it was fairly obvious to all of Formula One that India was a hit. The interest was immense with reporters from every paper in India, and blanket coverage on TV and more requests for appearances than the teams could meet. They did their bit, though – Red Bull’s show car crew have practically lived in India for the last few months. But the badge for tireless dedication to the cause has to go to Karun Chandhok. Lotus decided against letting Karun race, which was a shame, but he did more laps of the paddock than any one else, meeting, greeting, appearing on TV and shaking a million hands. “Quiet weekend, Karun?” asked one of the regulars innocently on Sunday evening. Karun just about raised the energy for the required expletive. Good lad.

The race drew a crowd of 95,000 on race day, all of whom were real people rather than the figments of imagination that many of the less popular state-controlled grands prix announce. The local press laughed at the number, which is pretty small compared to a big cricket match, but pretty impressive for F1. Hopefully we’ll have more opportunities to visit in the future.
 

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