The music of F1

I have been familiar with the chant of Sa-chin, Sa-chin being raised at cricket ground around the world and it was unusual to hear that at the Buddh International Circuit on October 30 when cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar walked on to the track to join the Formula 1 fraternity before the start of the Grand Prix of India. Come to think of it, there was a rich variety of sound at the inaugural event last month – and no, I am not talking of the music that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (or, Lady GaGa, if you please) made or the music that heavy metal bank Metallica did not make in Gurgaon. Over four successive days, I heard the entire range of pitches, from soft whispers to deafening roars, from delighted moans to angry groans.

Let me try and share some of these sounds that I picked up at the Buddh International Circuit. And I promise you, words can never do adequate justice to the sounds. If you listened carefully, you could hear the thumping of proud hearts as India made it to the elite league which hosts Formula 1 Grand Prix races, once again showcasing its ability to host world class events.

In normal times, the roar of thousands of adrenaline junkies can be heard from afar but the 95,000 who packed the stands around the 5.125km track realised that this was not a normal time; their collective voice was drowned by the shrill whine of 24 super machines revving up on the grid of the inaugural Grand Prix of India on October 30. It must be the highest decibel level recorded at peacetime in India.

I also heard the world of motor sports heave a collective sigh after the race at Greater Noida passed off without incident, barring, of course, the Lewis Hamilton-Felipe Massa shunt that has now seemingly become common place. That incident was usual and nothing compared to the fact that Indy Car racer Dan Wheldon and Moto GP rider Marco Simoncelli had lost their lives in track mishaps in the days ahead of the Grand Prix of India.

Then, there was the drone of satisfaction that cut across all drivers, teams, spectators and media that India – and a private enterprise at that – had delivered another great event in keeping with its growing status as an attractive market for sport that it has mainly watched on television over the past two decades. Formula 1 may have come to India only after tennis (ATP’s India Open), golf (European PGA’s Indian Masters), football (Bayern Munich’s visit to Kolkata) and basketball (NBA’s tie up with Mahindras for a community-based league) but it has gained the biggest yardage in terms of money, media time and space and a massive response of the people.

Yet, the loudest points were made by Red Bull Racing’s two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. The genial German, who led the race from start to finish, spoke from his heart about how he learnt a great deal about India during his short visit. “I think it is a very impressive country, very different to what we probably know from Europe, but very inspiring. If you keep your eyes and ears open I think you are able to learn a lot, the way the people handle things here,” he said.

His blue eyes twinkled with honesty as he spoke of life in India as he perceived it. “It is a big country, a lot of people, but sometimes it looks very different but they get along with it and they are very happy here,” he said.

Nobody prompted or provoked him and the words flowed spontaneously. “They enjoy life and in the end that’s what it is all about. If your life comes to an end it is the thoughts, the emotions, the friends, the friendships you take with you rather than whatever you have in your bank account. 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.”

It seemed natural and right that someone with an eagerness to learn about a new culture should drive home to the trophy, getting his race strategy and tyre strategy so right that he led from lights to checkered flag. He is a champion who will endear himself to most of India, not just because he readily became an ambassador for its culture and warm people but because he is so talented and keeps a calm head on his shoulders.

It is hard not to like such a humble champion as Vettel, even if one has been a huge Michael Schumacher fan for years.  Talking of the seven-time world champion who has been one of Vettel’s inspirations, Schumacher dished out remarkable fare for his fans, too. Starting 11th on the grid after rear-wheel vibrations pushed him out of Q3 on Saturday, the legend clawed his way up to a remarkable fifth place.

“To the organisers of the first Indian Grand Prix, I would like to send a big compliment. I am sure that I am not the only one to say that this was a very positive debut,” Schumacher said, echoing what every driver felt after the race. Mercedes’ Director of Mototsport Norbert Haug said Formula 1 could not have wished for more during the first race in a new country since it had a fantastic and challenging track, packed grandstands and great enthusiasm from the fans. And Schumacher’s younger team-mate Nico Rosberg, who took a rickshaw ride in Old Delhi, went to the extent of saying that he was looking forward to coming back next year.

Undoubtedly, F1 – its management, drivers and their teams – want to be back at the Buddh International Circuit again and again. And, at the moment, after developing infrastructure worth $200 million and spending a similar amount in organising the inaugural event, it appears as if the Jaypee Group, promoter of the Grand Prix of India, is the willing to underwrite the massive costs every year, accepting that there any return on investment can only be in the long-term.

The first event post the Formula 1 race on the BIC will be the climactic rounds of the JK Tyre FMSCI National Racing Championship and the JK Racing Asia Series at the end of November.  And when I look back at how the JK Racing Asia Series held two races as a support event for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, I can’t stop myself from thinking how wonderful it would have been had the Formula 1 bandwagon taken some time off to talk to the drivers in the junior formula. After all, it is not such a cut-throat world, especially with Vettel coming across as a fine champion.

This piece was written for Smash, the sports supplement that is issued with The Sunday Indian.