Fictitious as it may sound, the following is a true story. At one of the team lounges in the Paddock End of the Buddh International Circuit, a middle-aged man, while sipping on his champagne, told his friend: “Chalo thoda match bhi dekh lein” (Well, let’s see a bit of the match as well). That may be a little hard to believe. But then it was Delhi. And it was Formula One weekend, where people wanted to be seen, rather than see the actual event.
Compared to the first edition of the Indian Grand Prix, the second one – held on October 28, 2012 – was lukewarm in every sense: be it the sale of tickets, or the crowds at the venue, or even the much-hyped after parties. Delhi, clearly, wasn’t buying into the Formula One hype this time. Perhaps the novelty factor had worn off; or maybe the idea of going all the way to Greater Noida never appealed too much. Last year approximately 95,000 people watched Sebastian Vettel win the Grand Prix. This year, however, only 61,000 saw Mr Vettel make it two in a row.
On race day, it was quite a nightmare to get to the venue, unless you had a parking pass that took you right next to the stands. If you didn’t have a parking pass, depending on the zone in which you’d been seated, you had to hop into the park-and-ride facility and travel anywhere between nine and 18 kilometres in a bus. On the way back, if you were in the park-and-ride bus, it took close to four-and-a-half hours to reach south Delhi.
On top of that, I don’t know what it is about the Buddh International Circuit or perhaps all of Greater Noida, but it really seems like a huge dust bowl. The drivers complained about the dust last year, but it was no different this time around.
In the stands, the crowd was genuinely enthusiastic. At least a handful of them, carrying Ferrari or Force India flags, seemed really into the race. The rest – and I mean a majority in the stand where I was – were happy clicking pictures, updating Facebook and BBM status messages. People really weren’t interested. A pity, because it was a good race and Fernando Alonso did put up a good fight.
But then Formula One in Delhi is more about being there and telling the world that you saw the race. Does it matter if you really don’t know your Renault from Mercedes? Although just to be “seen” is not worth the hassle, unless you’re in the Paddock End — where there’s the best champagne, beer and food.
For “ordinary” people in the stands, the food on offer was stale, overpriced and tasteless (Rs 200 for a chana kulcha); the beer was warm and expensive (Rs 200 for half a glass); and to buy either, you had a long queue to endure. Clearly, the organisers weren’t particularly bothered about selling things. Nor were the teams. Last year almost every team had put up merchandise stalls. This time around, there was no one except Puma and Force India. You even had to pay Rs 30 to buy ear plugs last year; this year they were handed out for free.
Last year, when Lady Gaga performed at the Formula One after party, tickets were hard to find. This time, although it was one of the finest guitarists of all time – Carlos Santana – who performed, and though the concert wasn’t poorly attended either, tickets were easily available at the venue. After all, Poker Face is more popular than Black Magic Woman, isn’t it?
The good part of the whole Formula One weekend was that the real F1 fans had a great time. Since tickets were hard to sell for the organisers, they had to slash ticket prices — the cheapest ticket was priced as low as Rs 2,000. Even the grandstand tickets were priced as low as Rs 25,000.
In an interview before the race, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said that India could possibly host another Grand Prix. I am not sure if he would actually think of a second race in India after seeing the not-so-great response the second edition of the Indian Grand Prix received. After all, enough people are still looking to see a “match” at the races.
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