The cheers from the grandstands said it all. And this was even before the Airtel Grand Prix of India had begun. The roads leading to Greater Noida were jam-packed and the buzz of activity in the pitlane and starting grid only served to elevate the enthusiasm of the crowds already in the grandstands. After all, Formula 1 was finally here, V8 engines, double diffusers, chequered flags and all.
Perhaps the best way to gauge just who the crowd was supporting at the Indian GP, was on the parade lap when drivers made their way around the racetrack in vintage cars, waving to their adoring fans. Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber drew a fair share of cheers, and so did Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta. The scarlet clad Ferrari fans were also out in full support for drivers Felipe Massa and double world champion Fernando Alonso. But the undisputed king of the crowds was none other than seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
When the cars lined up on the starting grid though, all eyes were on Sebastian Vettel. After all, the youngest ever double world champion in Formula 1 was on pole position. And as Vettel has proved in the past – when he is on pole, not much can stop him from translating that into a fine victory.
So, when the five red lights went out on the first ever Indian Grand Prix, the twenty four cars screamed down the straight, all finding their way into the first corner at the same time. Some drivers leap-frogged others and made up positions, others lost out, and some made contact putting them out of contention all together. What that first corner demonstrated though, was that the debut Indian Grand Prix was going to be a good race. And there were 60 laps of wheel-banging action to look forward to, much to the delight of the audience sitting trackside.
As the race wore on, one thing became clear – Sebastian Vettel was stamping his authority all over the grand prix. Catching him was going to be near impossible, although Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso certainly did try. Fans watched as the young German extended his lead over his rivals lap after lap. By the end of the race, though, Vettel had managed to make a hat-trick of the event – pole position, fastest lap, and race victory too. All this without handing the lead over to another driver even once! And when the chequered flag fell, it was Vettel ahead, with McLaren driver Jenson Button taking second place on the podium, helping his team to second place in the constructors’championship. Alonso brought a smile to the faces of Ferrari fans with third place.
What of Michael Schumacher? Well, the German driver started the race eleventh, and finished fifth, ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, much to the delight of his Indian fans!
And while the top three drivers stood on the podium of the Indian Grand Prix, receiving their trophies and popping champagne to the cheers of the crowd, there were smiles lower down the pitlane as well. Adrian Sutil had taken Force India to ninth place on the grid, giving it two points in the championship, and giving people waving the Indian flag more reasons to cheer.
As for home hero Narain Karthikeyan? He’d said before the race that given the car he had, finishing the race and beating his team-mate were his realistic goals. Lucky for him he managed just that, finishing seventeenth of nineteen finishers at the grand prix.
The fans think that the Indian Grand Prix has been a huge success. “F1 has arrived in India and how,” says Ashish Sarser, before going on to declare that he’ll definitely be back to watch the race next year as well.