Its a symbolic moment for India: Karthikeyan

Written by Rajat Guha | Rajat Guha | Budh GP Circuit, Greater Noida | Updated: Oct 28 2011, 10:39am hrs
The smell of burning rubber. The screeching of cars zipping around at 300 km/hour. The pit babes. The speed, the thrill, and of course the big money. India's Formula 1 debut takes place over this weekend at the rollercoaster Buddh International Circuit (BIC), 40 km from New Delhi in Greater Noida.

Formula 1 has all the glitz, glamour and heart-stopping action Indians could ask for. It should be a recipe for success but the Budh International Circuit will need to avoid problems that have dogged several new tracks around the world in recent past. South Korea barely had tarmac laid for the debut in 2010 while Turkey has been controversially left off the 2012 calender because of a lack of public support.

"It's a historic and symbolic moment," said Narain Karthikeyan, India's first F1 driver, who returns to a seat at the HRT team this weekend. Despite spreading east and west, it has taken F1 more than 60 years to make its way to the world's second most populous nation. The sport's first appearance in India was back in 1982, when the Force India team's co-owner Vijay Mallya, then a young businessman with a fascination for fast cars, drove Nelson Piquet's 1978 Ensign in a series of events around India.

But despite Mallya's early foray, the sport's commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, waited until the mid-Nineties before pursuing plans to add India to the calendar. An agreement to stage the race in Greater Noida, a new city outside Delhi, was finally reached four years ago. Mallaya says this weekends race will be the biggest ever race for his team. I have been involved in the motor sport for 30 years. This weekend is very significant for Sahara Force India, he said.

Unusually for a new entrant on the F1 calendar, government is not committing any funds to the grand prix. Instead it is a private venture funded by construction specialists the Jaypee Group, which has spent Rs 400 crore on the new track alone.

Organising the grand prix is the firm's first foray into sport but, despite F1's notoriously high price tag, Jaypee views the project as a strong investment. The track is designed to be exciting. All tracks by herman Tilke , the man Bernie Ecclestone dotes on, are supposed to be thrilling. Around two-thrids of the tickets have already been sold including the ones for Grand Stand the costliest and the best-view seats.

Seven-time world champion and Mercedes driver Michael Schumaker told FE, Indian developers have done an excellent job on the track. There is quite a bit of challenge for us with high and low speed corners, good overtaking and i look forward to driving the car. Ross Brawn , Mercedes GP team principal said, India as a nation is rapidly progressing especially in the area of technology and thats why they are lapping up Formula One. I am also excited at the fan following for motor sport in India.

Well, there could be some party spoilers too, which drivers might have to face some teething troubles the debut Indian GP might throw in. Karthiken acknowledged the fact that the track is going to be dirty for sure.

For us drivers, the big problem is when you go off-line when you get lapped, thats the real problem.The track is new and will evolve a lot, he said.

Given Budh Circuit is a new track, that is also going to be a lot of tyre wearing. Its an intersteing subject for us during the weekend as new asphalt and new tracks are going to be interesting. Nobody knows the track. Everyones is going out their find the answer to this, Schumi said.

Notwithstanding minor fears, the And desi F1 debut is beginning to turn ear-splitting with marketing buzz.

Although there are no confirmations from companies on the figures, sources in the Indian Grand Prix circuit say title sponsor Airtel has spent around R30 crore for three seasons spread over three years. Alongside Airtel, the other big sponsors include Red Bull (which will bring everything from its aero models to its bikers and all that they have in the name of adventure to India by September end), UB group (which owns Force India and is the only Indian team in F1), Mercedes Benz, Shell, Renault, Castrol, JK Tyre, Vodafone, Tag Heuer, Helix-you name it. Many companies that haven't signed up as official sponsors are now joining the fray in a slightly different capacity.