My run-up to the weekend was understandably hectic, as it was the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. But, as I crossed the chequered flag, a flood of emotions seemed to surge through. There was immense satisfaction of performing as a racer and as an Indian, the pride of doing it on home soil.
It was overwhelming to see the amount of support there was in the grandstands — something I had the opportunity to relish thanks to the leisurely pace of the drivers’ parade. It is something a driver can only expect in his home country and it was the first opportunity I had all weekend to reflect and realise that we were on the brink of a something truly remarkable. No engineers, no debriefs — it was just me, the fans and the vast expanse of the Buddh International Circuit.
Once on the grid, none other than cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar came around to wish me luck before I climbed into the car. It was incredibly emotional and motivating.
The start was strong but my race almost went awry when one of the Lotuses braked far too early and left me with nowhere to go but right into its rear end. I sustained a significant damage to my front wing, as I found out after the race. At that point, from the cockpit, the balance of the car seemed slightly affected, but I decided to press on. The first 10 laps were difficult, but then I gradually settled into a rhythm.
Things were going well until after the first pit stop but then I had to get off the racing line when one of the Red Bulls lapped me, and being a new circuit, there was a lot of dirt off line. The pace of the front-runners was really quick and hence we had to get out of the way on several occasions and lap time suffered as a result. Overall though, the pace was good — comparable to the Lotuses at some points. The strategy worked out well even though one of the Virgin cars managed to jump us on the last stop, so in hindsight we could've finished higher.
It was an extremely satisfying weekend for me. I gave my highly rated team-mate a hard time throughout the weekend and everything came together for the race. I surprised quite a few naysayers, and most of all, surprised myself to an extent as well. After all, jumping into a race after being away for a while isn't the easiest thing — there are a lot of variables and you need to sew everything together.
My expectations had been quite modest going into the weekend, hence I relished the end result even more. Had I not got the five-place grid penalty in qualifying and started 22nd instead of 24th, who knows how far we could've gone.
Once again, I can't thank the Tata Group for the unconditional support they have extended towards me, standing by me through thick and thin and without whom I wouldn't have come this far. It has been an extremely promising and thrilling inaugural Indian GP — and a sign for promising things to come in the future.
(The writer is an F1 driver with HRT)