- Comment - Indian Grand Prix
First impressions of BuddhLaurence Edmondson in Delhi October 26, 2011
The approach road to the Buddh International Circuit is almost as impressive as the venue itself. Three empty lanes of the most immaculate highway in India narrow into the hazy horizon, with my mute taxi driver opting to stick firmly in the middle - and why not? It's 14:00 on the Wednesday before the race and there is nobody else using the road. There are still several hundred workers at the circuit itself, applying finishing touches, watering the grass and guarding the entrances, but they all arrived at sunrise and we've now got the Yamuna Expressway to ourselves.
Just as Taking Heads' Road to Nowhere clicks onto repeat in my head, an outline appears in the distance - and it's big. A green grass bank rises out of empty brown fields, partially obscuring the pit and paddock complex nestled behind. But it's the huge main grandstand that attracts the attention - much bigger than I expected and dominating the skyline. This sizable oasis seems totally out of place in the middle of an otherwise barren part of the Indian countryside, and the omnipresent smog, which has barely let up since leaving Delhi, gives an otherworldly feel.
Over the weekend the aforementioned grass bank will offer one of the cheapest seats in the house, while the towering grandstand will be the most expensive. But most importantly both will offer fantastic views of what looks like a genuinely interesting track, right from Hermann Tilke's top drawer. The undulation between turns two and three is much more dramatic than expected and the various other parts of the circuit viewable from the surrounding stands look equally impressive. The asphalt itself is pristine and the kerbs and run-off have all been given their FIA Grade-1 certification.
Closer inspection of the rear of the main grandstand, however, reveals a slightly hurried duck-egg blue paint job and similar frayed edges can be found in the paddock access tunnels and on one of the overhead advertising hoardings (pictured). But a couple of days in Delhi are enough to convince me that sweeping judgements should not be made on such superficial details. What's more the circuit already has a character of its own, which is a hard thing to come by at a Tilke-drome, and the continuing theme of the Indian tricolour means you couldn't mistake it for anywhere else in the world.
"This is our first year and there are bound to be endless teething problems per se, but despite that this place is fantastic. It is absolutely stunning," he told Sporting Life. "I had Charlie [Whiting, FIA race director] drive me round the track this morning, and after Bernie [Ecclestone] came up, slapped my face and he said to me, 'How did you put up such rubbish?'
"I looked at him aghast and said, 'What are you saying?'. Then he laughed, gave me a big hug, a slap on the back and said, 'Great job'."
The track is just the start of a wider $250 million plan to develop the area in to a 'Sports City' with a mixture of apartment blocks, country homes and even schools and hospitals. It's a grand plan and one that is hard to picture when looking out at the scrubland beyond the circuit's perimeter fence, but as long as the money continues to match the ambition there is no reason why it shouldn't happen.
Key to the success of the project will be attracting the local population to Formula One. Since arriving in Delhi on Monday it's been impossible to avoid promotion for the race, and that can only be a good sign. The latest reports suggest 80,000 of 120,000 tickets have been sold for race day, but the barrage of publicity on TV, in newspapers and via billboards means that figure will likely be higher on Sunday. What's more, there is a surprising amount of motorbike helmets painted in the colours of Michael Schumacher buzzing around Delhi, offering an extra boost of subliminal advertising.
Whatever the turnout, there's little doubt that this weekend's race will be like no other on the F1 calendar, for better and possibly, in some aspects, for worse. However, judgement should ultimately be cast when Sachin Tendulkar waves the chequered flag falls on Sunday, and so far the impressions are good - even Mr Ecclestone thinks so.
Laurence Edmondson is the deputy editor of ESPNF1