Usual Suspects

Before I begin with a rather detailed description of the sights and sounds (with the post that follows this) that graced the first ever UPGP (to be absolutely politically correct), here’s what happened in the race- nothing new, really, except the fact that most of us watched it LIVE, and most of us had grown up watching Schumacher and his Ferrari dominate the early millennium. We weren’t disappointed:

Vettel drove a flawless race, really. There was nothing Button or even a 30 year old Schumacher could have done. What is more interesting is that he also achieved the first ‘Grand Slam’ of his career- pole, fastest lap, leading every lap- only the SECOND overall Grand Slam in the last seven years. You’d think this is a normal event in the light of frequent German domination, but many overlook the fact that it is almost impossible to lead from start to finish- with pitstop strategies and backmarkers coming into play. Vettel’s the youngest, of course, and you’d be hard-pressed to see a more dominating performance in the next 10 years. He needs two more wins to equal Schumacher’s record of 13, with two of races left this season- Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
Button, as usual, was second best- by a large margin too. He is Mr. Consistent and is proud to be second best, as he often says. He came within 2.8 seconds of Vettel at one point, but that was as close as anyone got. Alonso brushed aside his bad start to finish fourth, thanks to some rapid action in the pitlane in the 38th lap- which put him ahead of a distraught Webber for good.

Fan meets Sporting Hero

Alonso did well to keep the gritty Australian behind for the rest of the race, while his teammate Massa found new ways to have the worst weekend in Formula One history. After a decent practice run on Friday, Massa- desperate to squash claims that he isn’t aggressive anymore- slammed his cars over the curbs time and again, only to damage his Ferrari in qualifying- and make the exact same mistake on RaceDay to retire. Of course, this was not before Massa killed off his eternal playmate’s first Indian GP- in a move that must have exacted revenge for every over-ambitious harebrained move that Hamilton has subjected the Brazilian to, this entire season (6 and counting). A sigh of relief swept a capacity crowd craving for some kind of action- when the two clashed, almost inevitably. The aggressor, this time, was punished with a drive-through penalty- and Massa didn’t bother completing the race. Hamilton pushed on, struggling to a disappointing 7th, further driving home his heartbroken-distracted-single-male claims.
In a pleasant surprise, almost scripted for his most vocal fans in the world- Michael Schumacher drove his best of 2011 to secure 5th place ahead of his rival and teammate Rosberg. The Mercedes GP cars didn’t threaten the top three throughout, instead engaging in their own little battle for 5th and 6th– often the most exciting parts of the race. The crowd erupted when Schumacher wound back the years to put in 3 quick laps after Rosberg pitted, followed by a lightening quick pitstop that put him ahead for the rest of the race. Indian fans couldn’t have asked for more. This was their pilgrimage, and Schumacher acknowledged the support with his own ‘victory’ lap.

Wheels of a Legend

That was it, for the race, atleast. The final race standings pretty much sealed the Championship standings for the season- with Button, Alonso, Webber and Hamilton looking primed to finish in the same order. Massa will finish more than 200 points behind the leaders, and the race between Schumacher and Rosberg is heating up- which could probably spell the immediate future of both the drivers, at opposite stages of their careers.

But it wasn’t the drivers that stole the limelight. It was the country, namely Jaypee Sports, that shone bright on a historic day that was, quite frankly, much needed for a nation starved of International staging success. After recent disasters like the CWG, non-existent Bryan Adams and Metallica concerts and Champions League cricket, the country’s first-ever foray in Motor sport racing was expected, cynically by most, to be a disaster. After all, it was the most expensive sporting project in Indian history. And when a stray dog veered onto the track during Friday’s practice sessions, the signs were not too bright.
But against destiny, hope and historical records- the Indian GP will count as one of the most successful debuts in recent history- with the track, infrastructure and security impressing one and all. For once, the capital prided themselves on a job well done- and finally, India is well and truly on sport’s most elite World Map.

For an interesting lowdown on the happenings inside and outside the Buddh International Circuit, you may want to read the next post- and probably rue the fact that you may not have been present for one of the most colourful, dusty, eventful, dazzling, surreal, amusing, shocking weekends on the Indian sporting calendar…so much so, that it is tough to weed out a joke or two at the expense of this event.

Onto 2012, to a greener and cleaner Buddh track. This time, we’re waiting- with HIGH expectations.

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