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Inside F1's exclusive party zone

The ‘Iceman’ melted. “Can I keep it?” Kimi Raikkonen asked me, referring to a magazine with him on the cover. This was the most animated F1’s bad boy got during our rendezvous at the Lotus pit walk...Aasheesh Sharma writes.

brunch Updated: Nov 10, 2013 15:42 IST
Aasheesh Sharma

The ‘Iceman’ melted. “Can I keep it?” Kimi Raikkonen asked me, referring to a magazine with him on the cover. This was the most animated F1’s bad boy got during our rendezvous at the Lotus pit walk, facilitated by Unilever, at the Airtel Indian GP. The Finnish champ, known for his monosyllabic responses and bordering-on-boorish behaviour towards the press, acquiesced to a one-on-one since it was a privilege reserved for members of the paddock club.

The F1 paddock club is a hallowed zone indeed. It is where business honchos, politicians and celebs behave like star-struck fans, as they get to live their fantasy of getting up, close and ‘selfie’ with their favourite F1 speed demons. Ask Pushkar Chauhan. The 39-year-old senior manager with a leading bank says he loved chilling with Marussia F1 team driver Max Chilton. “I actually got to discuss race strategy with an F1 driver!” he exclaims.

To most of the world, the Paddock Club is that rarefied, uber-cool precinct, where, for slightly less than 5,500 dollars for a weekend ticket, guests are plied with the best food money can buy, as well as copious amounts of GH Mumm champagne. Wearing the club pass around your neck, which makes the turnstiles open with a beep, gives you a power rush like no other.

Guests watch Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull on a giant screen at the Global Partner lounge of the Paddock Club (above); a sponsor’s table at the Club Suite

The Club is a zone where the money-can-buy and money-can’t-buy racing experiences co-exist, says F1 racer Karun Chandhok. “Within the F1 inner circle, there are two clearly delineated spaces. The paddock is where the teams are based, where you can only get in if you are invited. But anybody with money can go on the Internet and buy a pass to the paddock club,” adds Chandok.

For lovers of motorsport, this is where they get to be one of the boys. Consider self-proclaimed petrolhead Gautam Singhania. A regular face at the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, the Raymond Limited chairman can be seen driving around the Buddh International Circuit in his customised Ferrari 458 Italia off-season. “I use the club not just for meetings, but to interact with the drivers,” says Singhania.

Keeping up with the demands of high-profile clients, marketing wizards leverage their brands by creating ‘experiences’. “It could be as simple as helping them listen to a radio conversation between a driver and engineers,” says Olivier Gillet, head of marketing, Renault Sport F1. The ambience provides a great backdrop for networking, while experiencing the thrill of races from a vantage point and interactions with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team drivers, says Diageo India marketing director Bhavesh Somaya.

According to Petra Gold, head of marketing, DO & CO, the Vienna-based company that handled the catering at the Indian Grand Prix, between 180 litres and 2,000 litres of champagne are consumed over a typical F1 weekend. “At the Indian Grand Prix this year, we served 4,500 guests,” she says.

The menu on qualifying and race days at the Buddh International Circuit included grilled prawn salad or a salmon and pineapple tartare for starters; there was rack of spring lamb, wild salmon and red snapper for the main courses (with vegetarian options of mushroom linguine and penne thrown in). To tickle the desi palate, there was black pepper Chettinad chicken and biryani.

Over three years, the Indian GP has acquired a cache with the well-heeled. It is not uncommon to hear people discussing the merits of yachts they’ve bought, or who stays on the higher floor in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. One can spot Force India Team principal Dr Vijay Mallya walk in with ‘Saharasri’ Subrata Roy and bump into HRD minister Shashi Tharoor and his wife Sunanda on the terrace.
But more than anything else, the club has become a great place for teams to find sponsors, says Chandok. Till the mid-2000s, teams were funded by either tobacco or car makers. But the days of big business putting up millions just for stickers on cars are gone. Now, potential sponsors are convinced about shelling out a few billions for a vacant F1 berth at the Club, says Satbir Singh, chief creative officer of advertising firm Havas Worldwide India.
“It signifies performance and high living,” he adds.

– With inputs by Veenu Singh

From HT Brunch, November 10

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