Beyond the F1 buzz, India need more drivers

November 4, 2011

By Abhishek Takle

I knew India would fall in love with Formula One when I witnessed Lewis Hamilton do a demo drive in Bangalore last month in front of 40,000 massively excited fans thrilled by the assault on their senses . Our first grand prix at Noida last weekend only proved me right. The world’s finest drivers were given a taste of the adulation usually only handed out to Indian cricketers on home soil.

Even if the 95,000 race day attendance fell short of a sell-out at the $450 million Buddh International Circuit, it was still pretty impressive and  all the indications point to the sport growing and attracting ever larger crowds in the years ahead as the word spreads. My stand at Turn 3 was certainly packed with fans, the majority of whom were Indians and decked out in Ferrari red.

Unsurprisingly for a cricket-crazy nation taking its first, baby steps into the world of global motorsport, most of the fans did not appear to be close followers of motor racing.

However, their enthusiasm more than made up for that.

That intoxicating sound of a 2.4 litre V8 engine at full throttle, the addictive smell of petrol and scorch of tortured rubber as drivers locked up into the tight Turn 3 had them on the edge of their seats.

They cheered loud and hard when race-winner Sebastian Vettel drove past on the victory lap and acknowledged with equally wild applause seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher’s dogged drive to fifth from eleventh on the grid.

I am more fortunate than most Indian fans to have been to a Formula One race before but Sunday was an amazing experience for all of us. When I went to Sepang in Malaysia this year, the grandstand on the back straight was far from full on race day and all the drivers got was a round of applause as they drove past on their victory lap. Obviously, Indians do it differently.

F1 has certainly made new fans in India and all of the fans I spoke to said they were now hooked and would follow the sport more closely. Every one of them said they would be back next year and would bring friends along to experience the thrill of Grand Prix racing.

They said the staging of the first Indian Grand Prix would spawn a legion of motor-racing fans. But despite the buzz that it generated, the acid test will be to see whether it boosts the prospects of grassroots motorsport in the country.

As triple F1 champion Jackie Stewart said: “What India has made is remarkable.”

“But that is not enough for the progress of Indian motorsports. You guys have got to create a bunch of racing drivers at the highest level.”

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