Friday morning dawned and the long-awaited dream of the Indian Grand Prix became a reality. Before I knew it, I was strapped into the cockpit of my HRT and the V8 behind me barked into life. As I eased out of the pit garage and went down the pitlane for the first time, it was an incredibly
surreal moment. I couldn't believe I was driving an F1 car on an F1-spec race track and was still on Indian soil - even the leisurely-paced installation laps were quite overwhelming.
The vision of bringing F1 to India was Bernie Ecclestone's for well over a decade, and I think that Formula 1 found the right partner in the Jaypee Group and the Gaur family. I've personally interacted with Sameer Gaur and he has played a critical role in turning that vision into a reality by being hands on. I doubt if any other group would have been able to undertake it and do such a fantastic job, all things considered.
Once the session was on, the immediate incident of a stray dog making its way onto the race track and bringing out the red flag became a hot topic of discussion, especially amongst the international media, I later learnt. Well, the fact is that the infrastructure may have a few rough edges, but India is unique in many respects and Formula 1 needs to understand that, even though margins for tolerance are extremely low here. Next year, I'm sure such issues will be sorted out and it will be an even bigger and more successful spectacle in many ways.
Once on the limit, the track is extremely challenging, and more so in first practice due to the dusty surface - something which can be expected at any new facility. The first sector is mostly full-throttle sections, and hence demands a lot of speed whilst sectors two and three have lot of changes in gradients and camber, which imparts a lot of character - requiring rhythm, confidence and a well-sorted car.
One of the talking points amongst the drivers has been turn 10, a long 200-plus degree loop which is taken in two stages. Initially it was somewhat being compared to Istanbul's turn 8, but once in the car, it was clear that wasn't the case. Turkey turn 8 is a very open, flat corner, but turn 10 here requires a lot more braking and throttle modulation. That said, we were still doing about 180kph through the corner - not slow by any means for one with those characteristics.
Turn three has been a talking point as well, being one of the sections where the track is wider at the entry. This will encourage drivers to use different lines to set up an overtaking manoeuvre down the following 1.2-km straight, which is also one of the two designated DRS zones. So, we can expect lots of overtaking down the straight into turn four.
I've been asked several times if the circuit reminds me of any other venue but the fact is that its layout is unique. The continuous change of gradient on the long straight - I've never seen anything quite like that. Many circuits look good on paper but don't work when the driver gets into the cockpit. The BIC though has fully lived up to expectations and will be India's pride for years to come!
(The writer is an F1 driver with HRT)
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