Indian Grand Prix and what F1 stars and teams think of it
"Apparently myself and Mark don't come from Australia, we come from Ricky Ponting country," says Daniel Ricciardo laughingly when asked about how he perceives Indian Formula 1 fans. It's a feeling that is understandable, whether or not the motorsport enthusiast agrees with the sentiment. India, it would appear, is a country that's associated with that other sport - we won't say the C word, though. "There are lots of seats to fill, but unfortunately they aren't always full," the Australian Toro Rosso driver goes on to say. This is at the 2013 Indian Grand Prix Thursday press conference, and the questions being thrown the way of the drivers vary from those relating to race strategy and tyre management to several questions about the Indian GP and its future.
(L to R): Giedo van der Garde of Caterham F1, Daniel Ricciardo of Scuderia Toro Rosso, Max Chilton of Marussia F1 Team, Nico Rosberg of Mercedes AMG F1, Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing and Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus F1 in the Press Conference.
And it is with regard to the future of the Indian GP that there is a sense of impending doom in the paddock. With the Indian Grand Prix being struck off the calendar for 2014, and general news indicating that the race, despite the hopes of the organisers, won't make it back onto the calendar in 2015, there are several people who seem to be sad that 2013 is the last edition of the race. The drivers appear to like it because of the circuit layout itself - fast, flowing, with quick direction changes here and there. The teams appear to like it too, although the first year of the event did see some amount of glitches. Few can forget the dog on track, the bat in the media centre, the staircase that simply didn't go anywhere, and the other odd infrastructural issue at the Buddh International Circuit. However, that doesn't change the fact that India and her tryst with Formula 1 has been a positive experience.
Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing at the autograph session.
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG F1 and (below) Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing
Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing at the autograph session
Just how much of a positive experience can be judged by the smile and sense of pride that Yash Pathare has when speaking about the Indian Grand Prix. "I went out onto the pitlane this morning and looked out at the grandstands, and of course, it was far too early for anyone to be there, but it was a very special feeling." For those of you who haven't heard of him, Pathare is Caterham F1's strategy engineer, and currently the only 'proper' Indian in Formula 1. By that we mean he's the only Indian passport holder who is currently employed in the sport at the moment. For Yash, as a young boy grew up watching Formula 1, and dreamt of someday working in the sport, being part of his home grand prix is a matter of great pride. But there is also a sense of sorrow with the great question mark that hangs over the future of the race itself. "It's really sad that my home grand prix has been struck off the calendar though," Yash tells us.
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1 at the autograph session.
What's gone wrong then? Well, it's no secret that the Indian government doesn't recognise motorsport as a sport per say. Which means the tax subsidies that are extended to other sports aren't extended to Formula 1. Then there is the fact that the race itself has faced red tape aplenty and issues with customs and taxation too. Add to that the fact that every penny that has been spent on Formula 1 has been spent out of the JPSI coffers, and there appears to be no motivation for the Government to try on capitalise on what is essentially a free investment for them. Myopic, yes. Surprising, no. The Jaypee Group has spent money in terms of building the circuit, running the event, paying licence fees to Formula One Management. And given that they aren't making money off it, there is no real reason for them to continue. However, as OVERDRIVE's own Dan Knutson tells me, "If the money is paid to Bernie (in terms of licence fees) the race will happen." The race he's referring to, of course is the 2015 edition. Whether or not JPSI will see the value in paying this money to FOM over the course of the next few years looks unlikely, though. Even though sources within JPSI declare that Sameer Gaur, chairman and managing director of JPSI is keen on seeing out the two years that remain of India's five-year contract with Formula 1, there is a chance that it just might not happen. As Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal of Sauber F1 said - once a something drops off F1's radar, it's highly unlikely that it will make it back.
Safety car exits pit lane at Buddh International Circuit on Thursday
What of the other drivers at the press conference though. Young Max Chilton of the Marussia F1 team says that for a country with what he believes has the seventh largest population in the world, the sport seems to be well received. Kimi Raikkonen, when goaded about the fact that he's got plenty of fans in India, in a typically staccato fashion declared that he'd managed to see a little bit of the hotel, some of the motorway, and not too many people in the grandstands. While Mark Webber declared, "They're quite knowledgeable on our sport, they want to understand which is a big advancement on some of the other fresh countries that we go to which are super, super naive. A lot of good positives about it, so it's a shame it's not here again."
Got to say we agree with you, Mark. It's a real shame.