“Drivers getting ready in their cars and the lap formation begins…the engines begin firing up… Vrooom…Vrooom…All drivers have now left the grid…no problem there at all…the five red lights go out and yes, the race is on!!!”
26th October is less than a week away and the Indian capital is already warming up for one of the biggest and only a year old Indian Grand Prix. There is adrenalin in the air and fingers are being crossed for the 3 day racing festival. Or is it?
Except cricket, I have rarely seen Indians getting excited by something that outrageous. We have always been a country crazy about team sports; where cricket tops the list followed by Football (purely because of attraction towards English clubs) and to some extent hockey (Mostly to demean players & authorities that they don’t take it seriously where on the other hand we ourselves have forgotten the importance it once had in Indian psyche).
Coming back to Formula One, it has always been an enigmatic sport for us Indians. It’s like watching Need for Speed or F1 Championship games in real life. Formula One has been the glamorous babe of all sports. What’s with the 3 day extravaganza of qualifiers and pomp and splendour. The grid formation, the lap counts, the pit stops, the intensifying speed, the close finishes, chequered flags, podiums and of course, champagnes. Chics flocking towards drivers, battling their eyelashes and all the Schumachers, Hamiltons, Alonsos and Raikonnens exhibiting their talent.
Formula One is like a long “page-3 party” draped in elegance and sophistication. Television has made it even more fabulous. The sponsorships, the media rights, with travel companies offering exclusive packages complete with hotel bookings and 3 day passes for the race.
Last year in midst of excitement and enthusiasm, the 17th race of Formula One season kicked off with Sachin Tendulkar, the iconic cricketer waving the chequered flag.
Now, one year later, does Formula One hold the same revere that it held a year back? The curiosity is no more. Last year, it was more of a new romance, a new love waiting to be discovered, to be pampered and frowned upon. Is it the same now?
Well, for one, the buzz has died down, the excitement diminished. There have been cutbacks in sponsorships, less events this time round and significant losses that have been effectively hidden.
India has never been a racing country, cars rarely form a part of our culture and long monotonous races offer less thrilling excitement in comparison to even 5 days of cricket. Though the appeal of Formula One is much like IPL, the Indian involvement in itself is minuscule compared to other sports. Everyone has heard about Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok but every young kid aspires to be Tendulkar or Kohli and not some racing addict.
Races form a part of game collections to be played on PS3s and X-boxes. In a country, where Formula One does not even enjoy the privileges of being called an actual sport, it has failed to reach and make home in people’s day to day lives.
Vijay Mallya’s Force India generated quite an interest at the time of its conception and although we love to see that white race car drenched in Indian tri-colours zipping on the track, it fails to maintain that patriotic feeling for long.
With 365 days of cricket and large tournaments being played all over India and overseas, people rarely have time to watch anything else. Television sponsors will rather bank on cricket which will generate an assured mix of viewers and madness, the essential needs to thrive.
Experts are divided on their opinions, with some feeling that given time, the F1 culture will be absorbed in the Indian mindset slowly but surely. Now that only few days remains, it will be interesting to see how much enthusiasm does this edition of Indian Grand Prix creates. Maybe India will indeed set hearts pumping like last time. As Sebastian Vettel, the last year Grand Prix’s winner said:-
“I am very proud to be the first winner here in India…Even though the people have so little here, I think in a way they are much richer than a lot of people back in Europe. There is a lot we can learn and it is a great race, great event. The circuit is fantastic so all in all it is fantastic so thanks a lot to India and all the people here.”