India is a vibrant, and colourful country, and like no other place on Earth. This is in part due to its population of 1.2 billion. Of that enormous number around 10%, or over 100 million, are rather well-off – I guess what would be called middle-class elsewhere, and very wealthy by the standards of India. That is a simply mind-boggling figure: it means India’s middle-class alone is twice the total population of Great Britain.
With such base statistics it is only natural that Formula 1 targeted India as a venue, particularly when one considers what the Indians have done for cricket, and the country’s burgeoning motor industry. Building the extremely impressive Buddh International Circuit without government help was a real leap of faith on the part of the promoters, but by the same token they should have no problems in filling the vast stands on Sunday. In fact, I believe the race is sold out.
Lately Formula 1 has expanded to a lot of new territories – China, Turkey, Arab states and Singapore to name but a few. However, never before have we been to a virgin territory with two grand prix drivers and what could be considered a national team as is the case with India: not only are Narain Karthikeyan - who, incidentally, got his first grand prix drive with Jordan - and Karun Chandhok fully-fledged F1 drivers, but Force India is, excuse the pun, a force to be reckoned with here.
Force India has traces of my DNA in it because it started life as Jordan Grand Prix before I sold it on, so in a way you could say I have a vested interest in India’s own team. For this reason I’ll be watching the team keenly, and am optimistic they will perform strongly on ‘home’ soil, particularly as I hear they have some good technical upgrades for this race.
That is one of the intriguing aspects of Formula 1: despite both titles being decided none of the teams have stopped their development programmes, and it is often at this time of the year that we see really interesting technical developments as teams experiment with stuff destined for the following season.
PUMA’s partner team Ferrari is obviously pushing for Fernando Alonso to finish second in the championship behind Sebastian Vettel while simultaneously developing parts for the 2012 car. This balancing act between the now and the future is fascinating to watch, and proves just how taxing the job of team principal really is. One slip, and millions of fans immediately voice their opinions on internet forums…
This fight for the runners-up place is one of the talking points of this weekend, and will continue to be so during the final two races in Abu Dhabi and Brazil. There are four drivers in with a chance of ending the season as best of the rest (in points’ order): Jenson Button, Fernando, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton. This scrap is likely to be relentless, particularly if their antics in Korea a fortnight ago are any guide.
But for me the highlight of today, though, was seeing Felipe Massa in the Ferrari top the times in the second practice session. It’s a long time since we saw him do that, and it provides further proof that he and Ferrari never give up. But the real show starts with tomorrow’s qualifying, and I for one can’t wait for Sunday’s race.