Success formula

Print edition : November 30, 2012

RED BULL'S SEBASTIAN VETTEL LEADING THE RACE at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida in the Second edition of the Indian Grand Prix.-RAJEEV BHATT

In front of a crowd of 65,000, Sebastian Vettel wins the Indian Grand Prix for the second time in a row at the Buddh Circuit.

Formula One is not rocket science but, surely, the sport that comes closest to it. Man and his machine, both variables, constantly chase success at high speed. The track has challenging curves, turns and stretches that demand the right combination of speed and driving skills.

But things are not that simple. For the diehard, almost hysterical, fan of the worlds fastest sport, there is nothing like the sound and sight of these single-seater cars speeding up to 350 kilometres an hour.

However, for the uninitiated, it is tough to understand technicalities such as aerodynamics, suspension, the compound used in the tyres and the way the driver and his team work out various details of the use of fuel, leading from the qualifying rounds to the main race-day event. The use of the ever-improving technology of electronics makes it easier for the better drivers to win. Though the parameters are the same for all cars, the driver/team with the superior engineering knowhow is often tipped to win. In short, it is far more complicated than it appears.

F1 made its second appearance in India this year. Though the buzz was noticeably less than what was seen during the inaugural edition last year, the event at the $200-million facility at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida was a grand success.

Unlike the estimated crowd of 96,000 that thronged the circuit last year, the number was down to around 65,000 this year. This number may appear small considering the capacity of the stands at a whopping 1,10,000. But, even if the novelty factor of watching an F1 race from the stands has understandably diminished since last year, it is still commendable that such a large number of people made it to the circuit given that the nearest metro station is more than 40 km away. Those driving down from the national capital have to cover a minimum of around 100 km.

The race, like last year, was won by Sebastian Vettel. The man looking for a hat-trick of world titles led from the start and stayed clear of the nearest challenger, former World Champion, Fernando Alonso of Ferrari. Vettels teammate from Red Bull Racing, Mark Webber, came third.

VETTEL CELEBRATES after winning the race.-RAJEEV BHATT

Though the outcome of the race was as predicted by the experts, who felt Vettel was fortunate to drive the best car in the business, Alonsos great finish after starting fifth on the grid came for praise from one and all. The excitement over the performance of these two drivers was understandable, since they lead the race for the world title.

The following week in Abu Dhabi, Alonso again came second, this time to former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, and moved within 10 points of Vettel, who finished a surprise third after being made to start from the pit. The German favourite was penalised for fuel infringement in the qualifying round a day before.

As things stand, Vettel heads the points table with 255 points, ahead of Alonso with 245, followed by Raikkonen at 198.

With only two events remaining in the 20-race card for the seasonthe U.S. Grand Prix in Austin and the Brazil Grand Prix in Sao Paoloit is set to be a two-horse race for the title with not many points left at stake. The winner of a race gets 25 points, the runner-up 18 and the third placed 15. Only those placed in the top 10 get points.

Before looking at the races ahead, Vettel reflected on the Indian Grand Prix and how he looked at the country: I think every Grand Prix is special and has something special about it. Obviously, its the second time that weve run here. So far, all the quotes from the drivers regarding this circuit have been very positive. Its a lot of fun for us. Its not so easy to manage the tyres in one lap for qualifying, but also over the race [distance] so its a big challenge and I think thats what we like.

There are some corners, like turn 15, where you always think that something went wrong and you try and do it better next time. You get challenged to the limit, which is obviously what we like. We dont want to make mistakes but obviously we like those sort of places.

On top of that, I think its an impressive country. Obviously, last year I had a bit of time to have a look, and I think coming back is quite a big difference. In here [the Formula One paddock] its something that we all know, but having a look at Delhi or a little bit of the life outside the circuit, it is very different from other places. I think theres a couple of stations or a couple of stops on the calendar that are very impressive in that regard.

There are a lot of people here: 1.3 billion or more, so quite incredible and just to see that, to see how people live here, to see the culture, I think is a very, very different experience. In life, I think a lot is always about expectations and in Europe expectations are very, very high. Money plays a big role whereas here, I think, expectations are fairly low. Money is not that important.

It doesnt matter how old you are. I think its more important to have a healthy, happy life, to enjoy your life with your family, with your kids. Sometimes to compare the circumstances you live in here in India with EuropeI grew up in Germanyits like black and white, its very different but its also nice to see that the people are so happy and warm-hearted. I think it would definitely be nice to spend a little more time to travel around and get more of an idea. As I said, here in the circuit, everything is more or less the same. But as a country, this place has a lot to offer.

The drivers and their teams gave a thumbs up to the Buddh Circuit. And so did the F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone. He even hinted at giving India a second event on the circuit in the coming years, provided the response was good.

Narain Karthikeyan, the countrys only F1 driver, feels that compared with other Asian countries, there is more passion and knowledge of motorsports in India, particularly F1.

The 2008 world champion, Lewis Hamilton, on his seventh visit to the country, said there was enough passion here. What we need foremost is to have good races. Good racing means people will take notice and the Indian Grand Prix will be something to look forward to every season, he said.

Sameer Gaur, the managing director and chief executive of Jaypee Sports International Limited which promotes the Indian Grand Prix, knows the ground realities too well. We are always talking to Mr Ecclestone and he thinks the prize money is too low and we think it is too high. We have to find a middle ground because high hosting fees means higher ticket prices. Thats how F1 works, he said.

The BIC has a five-year contract with the F1 governing body and pays $40 million annually for hosting the Grand Prix. This could be extended to 10 years, depending on the response and returns seen by both parties. As another step towards breaking even, the BIC will also host the Superbike World Championship for which the Jaypee Group has signed a four-year contract, beginning 2013.

Revenue, besides the sale of tickets, also comes to the BIC when the track is booked for big corporate events. Compared with the tracks at Chennai or Coimbatore, which can be rented for Rs.5-6 lakh a day, the BIC is pegged at Rs.30 lakh a day. In fact, companies like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Ford have held events here. The circuit also holds events where those who love speed can test their driving skills in their own cars.

The arrival of F1 in the country has surely added to the following of the sport. The sport enjoys an annual global television viewership of well over 525 million. As per available figures, in 2011, F1 made an operating profit of $451 million after generating revenues to the tune of $1.5 billion.

Now, thats how big F1 is.
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