For the Indian motor sport enthusiast, the third Formula 1 race over the weekend at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) is highly significant for more than one reason.
For one, it will be the last time that cars with V8 engines will be racing in Greater Noida. Then, Australian driver Mark Webber will surely be retiring at the end of the season and Brazilian Felipe Massa is also contemplating to quit. And there is this break next year although we all hope that F1 comes back to India in 2015.
For me personally, racing here in the last two seasons was a fantastic experience, an immensely proud moment to be on the starting grid at home.
The first-time experience is overwhelming and incomparable, the frenzy, the build-up, the media stuff all make it exciting. You almost forget that there is a race weekend to get through. But once you get to the circuit, you try to shut all of it out and focus on on-track stuff.
Still, you are not immune to the buzz, and you keep on pinching yourself that it isn’t a dream. If in 2005, my debut season, someone had told me that I would be on the grid for my home Grand Prix less than a decade later, I would have told them to get lost!
We had strong outings both years, given the equipment and circumstances, but I think the 2011 race was pretty special. I was nervous, not having driven a full race distance since July that year and the pressure of going up against a highly rated driver like Daniel Ricciardo, who will be driving for Red Bull next year.
In qualifying we were neck and neck, down to the thousandths of a second, but I got a grid penalty for the race. And it didn’t stop there and then there was a contact on the first lap and I lost a chunk of the front wing, but we still managed a good race and finished ahead of Ricciardo (by over 30 seconds) and the final result (finishing 17th) was the best we could have hoped for. All in all, it was a magical weekend!
It is a shame that no Indian driver is on the grid for the race this year, but F1 drivers aren’t made overnight – it takes several years of competing in the right championships and showing your speed at every level before making it to F1. In my days, the ladder was far more straightforward and simpler than it is today. I never touched a kart whereas kids today start driving when they’re eight and do karting for six to eight years before switching to a single-seater.
Considering this long development curve, I think Jehan Daruvala has put himself in a good position right now. He has won karting championships in Asia as well as Britain this year and it isn’t easy given the competition. I have interacted with his father and he is fully committed towards supporting Jehan all the way and that is exactly what you need when you are aiming for the top echelon of the sport.
Coming to the BIC, I think it has the best character of all recent Hermann Tilke tracks, except maybe the Austin Circuit which has a huge amount of natural elevation change. Considering the topography of the region where Buddh is located — in the heartland of plains — it is amazing that such an impressive, undulating circuit has been created.
This makes for a really challenging layout with technical corners, some fast direction changes and the popular, double-apexed turn 10-11 complex. The surface is incredibly smooth, the kerbs are great as you can really attack them, and the large amount of tarmac runoff and Tecpro barriers fulfil and surpass the mandatory safety requirements.
A lot of people here have asked me what can be done to get the Indian Grand Prix a permanent slot on the calendar. Jaypee Group has worked extremely hard in bringing F1 to India and running the show flawlessly, but government support is also needed to make an event of such a stature successful in the long run.
All other races, barring a couple, are supported by local governments in one way or the other — whether it is tax breaks, custom relaxations or hosting fee contribution.
The government should understand that F1 shows India in a positive light on a global stage, apart from the regular benefits to the tourism industry. Classifying F1 as a sport instead of entertainment would be a good place to start.
India is a great destination for F1. Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 boss, knows that — given the number of companies that are involved at several different levels in the sport. All we need to do is make things a little simpler and easier for them to be here, and the India round will be a permanent fixture.
(24.10.2013 – Narain Karthikeyan is the first Formula One driver from India. He can be contacted at email@example.com)Published 24 Oct 2013, 15:30 IST