As is the way with back-to-back races on different continents, the post-race celebrations were somewhat muted at the Buddh International Circuit this evening. Red Bull Racing managed a quick celebratory photograph to celebrate their 1-3 finish, but the moment didn’t last long; the mechanics needed to continue what they’d started.
The teams’ freight had to be packed away and ready for loading onto lorries six hours after the chequered flag dropped, so the pack-up was an all-hands-on-deck affair. Even the race engineers donned dayglo bibs and got stuck in, which, Paddock Cat has been informed, is very rare!
Amid this mayhem, however, the ‘beautiful people’ were nowhere to be seen. When the race ended, the VIPs headed to the Amber Lounge after-party in downtown Delhi, where the Black Eyed Peas were playing and the stars of Bollywood were expected.
Members of the Black Eyed Peas were spotted at the circuit before the race, all of them guests of Williams. (How apt, given Will.i.am’s connection to the band! – Ed)
If you’re a cricket fan, and there are lots of them in India, you would have been excited to see Harbhajan Singh today. He was a guest of Ferrari sponsor Hublot for the second year running and he couldn’t wait to get up close to the cars.
“They look much smaller in real life than they do on the TV,” he says. “It’s great to be here and to support this race. I hope the Indian Grand Prix becomes one of the favourite on the calendar.”
Had Harbhajan Singh made those comments in the media centre, he’d no doubt have received a round of applause – as Seb Vettel did during the post-race press conference. The double world champion spoke eloquently about how much he enjoys India and even the most cynical hacks broke into spontaneous applause. It seems everyone in F1 enjoys coming to Delhi and people who speak up in support of the event – be they cricketers or pop stars – are praised.
Someone else who went out of his way to say how much he enjoyed the race was Lewis Hamilton. “The track is one of the best we drive on,” he said, “and I love the country. The people are very friendly and there’s so much to see and do.”
Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Lewis gave his first ever grid interview today. Normally, he parks up in his grid position, heads to the toilet, talks to his engineers and gets back in the car; today he did all of those things, but still managed to find some words for Sky’s Martin Brundle.
Within 24 hours the F1 paddock will be in Abu Dhabi, but the 2012 Indian GP will live on in the minds of the people involved in it for many days to come.
The colour of India never ceases to amaze. Cows on the side of the road, packs of dogs wandering down the central reservation, cars driving on the wrong side of the road; this country has it all. But your trusty Paddock Cat still managed to be astonished this morning, when he saw a goat on a motorbike! The animal was sat between the man at the controls and a lady on the back. Extraordinary.
Less extraordinary has been the sight of people playing cricket. Formula One’s popularity is growing on the sub continent, but cricket is far and away the most popular pastime here. Even the smallest patch of grass will have people gathering around to throw a ball against a bat, so it seemed apt for a journalist from the Hindustan Times to ask double world champion Fernando Alonso about his cricketing skills.
“I cannot play,” he said. “Not only can I not play, I don’t even understand the rules!”
“Why not, Fernando?”
“We don’t play cricket in Spain. Please don’t take offence!”
Mark Webber, on the other hand, loves cricket. He went to school with Australian test cricketer Brad Haddin and he telephoned Steve Waugh, the former captain of the baggy greens, for some advice on how to survive in India prior to coming out here.
“The cricket guys do long tours in India,” said Mark, “so they know how to survive here. They know what precautions to take when it comes to food and hygiene. Steve had plenty to say!”
Another person with lots to say after qualifying on pole position for tomorrow’s Indian Grand Prix was Sebastian Vettel. In the post-qualifying press conference he got playful and even compared his RB8 to a horse. They could see where he was coming from, except for two points: he’s got a herd of 800 under his right foot, not a lone one, and if his RB8 were a ‘Red Horse’, it would be a Ferrari!
The only thing left for Seb to do on Saturday was sign some copies of the new F1 Opus, which was launched at the Oberoi Hotel in downtown Delhi last night. The book is a glorious look at the last 60 years of the world championship and includes some never-been-seen-before pictures.
The copies that have been signed by every living world champion? A cool £20,000 each.
The Formula One circus returns to the Buddh International Circuit in Delhi this weekend for round 17 of the 2012 World Championship. Seb Vettel holds the advantage going into the race, having snatched a six-point lead of the drivers’ standings at the last round in Korea, but the pre-race press conferences have been full of bullish talk from all sides.
“We hold the advantage at the moment,” says Vettel, “but it’s not now that counts. We need to hold the advantage after the last race in Brazil, and that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Alonso led the standings for nine races, prior to losing out in Korea, and he enters the Indian GP weekend on the back foot. But he still rates his chances in the title race, having finished third in three of the last four races.
“As a team we have done 16 perfect race weekends this year,” says Fernando. “If we do four more perfect races between now and the end of the year, I’m sure we’ll be fighting for the world championship in Brazil.”
Vettel cannot rely on the help of his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber at this race. The Aussie was emphatic yesterday that he’ll be allowed to win if he’s leading the race from Vettel on the final lap. “Mathematically I can still win the title,” says Mark, “so if I’m leading and Seb’s behind, I’ll win the race. End of story.”
With so many sub plots to the main world championship story line, the foundations are in place for a classic Indian Grand Prix.
Away from the on-track action, F1 is having an easier time at the Buddh International Circuit than last year. The track was finished just days before the inaugural race last year, and it showed. Williams had to kick out some squatters from their hospitality suite when they arrived; there were drainage issues and many of the buildings were unfinished. This year everything is more organised: the hospitality suites are clean and carpeted; all of the buildings are finished and the media have even got a café in which to feed and water themselves.
And it would seem there’s been a bigger buy-in from the local media this year. That might be due in part to the recent rise of Monisha Kaltenborn. The Sauber team principal was born in Dehradun, Northern India, and the Indian press have been kept busy while she’s in town. She conducted four hours of media interviews on Wednesday, and she was impressed by the questions she was asked.
“The media showed a lot of knowledge of F1,” she said. “I was impressed; they’ve made F1 feel very welcome.”
However, all the colour and eccentricities of India have been lost on some F1 folk. When asked what he thought of Indian food, Kimi Raikkonen said: “It’s just like it is in Europe.” Er… right.