Thursday 29 June 2017

Indian high-wire act another triumph for Bernie's F1 circus

Formula One broke new ground in India last weekend and while the race wasn't a classic, the potential has been tapped, says David Kennedy

Albert Einstein once remarked that India is owed a great debt of gratitude for teaching the world to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.

The relatively recent science of Quantum Mechanics paid a visit to its teacher last weekend in the form of Formula One racing.

With 1.24 billion people, or if you like one sixth of the world's population, India is one of the biggest single global democracies. The warmth of the welcome for the world's premier race series was palpable and after worrying about whether the organisers would pull it off, there was great relief at the Buddh International Circuit when it did.

There was unanimous praise for all concerned and the collective efforts to create a wonderful new facility, estimated cost €150m, which although was barely completed in time, nevertheless got the thumbs up from hardened teams.

The track itself won the hearts of the drivers, not just because of the heart-shaped B logo of the Buddh circuit, but thanks to the nature and variety of high- and low-speed corners laced together across a landscape of undulating topography. Drivers invariably love a challenging track and this one ticked that box.

The downside was that with the paint barely dry and the cement hardly set, the circuit became a dustbowl for drivers. The lack of grip off-line did affect the overtaking possibilities, and that old rule, which decreed that a newly minted F1 venue had to hold an international race in advance of their first Grand Prix, should be resurrected.

This season we have found that DRS adjustable wings helped balance the performance for pursuing drivers who are at a disadvantage of having disturbed air, which reduces downforce and horsepower.

However, the current restrictions on DRS say the wing can't be adjusted to gain straight-line speed until the first two laps of the race have been completed. That should be reduced to one lap and it should be available to cars running within two seconds of the car in front rather than the single second, as it stands under the current rules.

On the grid before the race there was a ceremony to honour the memory of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon and MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli who were killed within a week of each other.

Lewis Hamilton took the opportunity to put an arm around Felipe Massa but the gesture of peace went unacknowledged and the English driver must have been wondering what he needs to do to woo the Brazilian from the slumber of their age old war-games.

Certainly their subsequent collision in the race didn't do that cause any favours. Hamilton, having attempted a clean manoeuvre on his nemesis, encountered a particularly intransigent Massa.

It seemed as if the Brazilian looked over at him and raised his eyes to heaven thinking 'not you again' and turned in. He was unlucky to get a penalty for what was in fact an archetypal 'racing incident' but at least the stewards, on this occasion ably assisted by Johnny Herbert, threw the rulebook at someone other than Hamilton.

Looking at the overall race-pace displayed by Jenson Button, it's reasonable to assume he would have been able to keep his McLaren in touch with Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull for much of the race, making it a more exciting spectacle.

Instead Vettel controlled the event from lights out to the chequered flag, to record one of the most satisfying of the 21 victories he has accrued in just 79 races. He's developing an appetite for records as evidenced by the setting of fastest lap on the very last lap, apparently in direct contravention of the wishes of his team who see it as an unnecessary risk for a merely symbolic gong. But despite tyres losing their edge, the fastest lap will generally always be set on a lighter fuel load at the end of the race.

The F1 circus is well used to visiting third world countries and witnessing the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. India is no different. Billionaires, Bollywood icons and famous cricket stars all converged in this shiny new world, hermetically sealed from the reality of people on the periphery. But like the young boy Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire, kids can dream of going there one day, for dreams are still free even under Bernie's eagle eye.

Build it and those who can afford it will come. Interestingly, of the 110,000-seater venue, 79 per cent was sold, despite the tickets costing from €40 to €600. The fans didn't get a classic race for their money but they got high on the vapours and the expectation for the future.

Sonia Irvine, Eddie's sister, brought her Amber Lounge after-party gig to the subcontinent where guests paid an eye-watering €15,000 for a table of eight. That she is able to attract and charge punters the same rate as her venues in Monaco and Singapore is a testament to the changing economic landscape in India. Perhaps the last word on the inaugural Grand Prix should go to the sixth-century Buddha, from where the circuit's name is derived.

The enlightened one proclaimed, 'A wise man, recognising that the world is but an illusion does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering'.

Last Sunday, the Indian Grand Prix gave one sixth of the world a platform for doing just that.

Next stop, Abu Dhabi, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, for the penultimate event of the season. Red Bull shows no signs of losing its edge yet McLaren really is closing the gap. If Hamilton or Button can piece together a trouble-free race weekend like Vettel did in India, then the Red Bull hegemony can be challenged.

The manner in which Ferrari's competitiveness has waned in recent races is disappointing but if Maranello is focusing its resources on 2012 it's understandable, as they can't improve on third place in the constructors' championship.

Vettel is chasing a hat-trick of wins at Yas Marina, having won the first two editions of the event and we already know that, at just 24 years of age, he's eager to develop his position in the history and heritage of motorsport. That's all very well but someone has to stop him and they have two races left to do it.

Robert Wickens will get a life-changing opportunity in Abu Dhabi next weekend. Marussia has just announced he will run in free practice on Friday. He is also scheduled to test the Renault F1 car a few days later. Watch this space.

Sunday Indo Sport

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