x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A dog day afternoon at the Indian Grand Prix

Track invasions halt practice sessions, but drivers have a field day as feedback on the Buddh International Circuit ranges from 'fun' to 'challenging'.

A course marshal chases away a stray dog on the track before the first practice session started at the Buddh International Circuit.
A course marshal chases away a stray dog on the track before the first practice session started at the Buddh International Circuit.

GREATER NOIDA, India // Those criticising Buddh International Circuit for its lack of local character were silenced on Friday as wild dogs and swirling subcontinental dust played their part in proceedings during an eventful first day at the Indian Grand Prix, which ended with unanimous approval for Formula One's newest track.

With the venue enjoying its first action since opening its doors to the world earlier this week, the day was preluded by the appearance of a large black canine on the main pit straight.

The offender was chased away, but when a second dog made its way on to the track a few minutes into the first practice session, the red flag came out, suspending the action.

A few minutes later, the all-clear was signalled and the drivers returned to what soon became abundantly apparent was a very dusty track.

Karun Chandhok, Team Lotus's Indian reserve, posted the circuit's first timed lap in a Formula One car, but Lewis Hamilton of McLaren-Mercedes finished the morning top of the time-sheets.

In the afternoon session, with the earlier session and support races having cleared some of the dirt from the racing line, Ferrari's Felipe Massa was able to post the quickest lap of the day, almost 0.09 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull Racing driver, who won his second successive world championship earlier this month.

The German, who had crept out of his pit garage for a glimpse of the first dog, said the dust made racing very difficult but gave the track an enthusiastic report.

"It's an interesting track, a good challenge," the German, 24, said. "It was very dusty to start with, but the track seems fun - especially the wide entries.

"It's dusty offline, which makes it tricky and that will be the story of the weekend, so we have to make sure we stay on the line. We have to live with it, but I think it will improve throughout the weekend, so it shouldn't be a big problem in the race."

Mark Webber, Vettel's teammate who finished fifth in the afternoon, said he found the Buddh track "challenging", while Hamilton said it was "a nice, beautiful flowing circuit".

"The grip levels seem great," the 26-year-old Hamilton added. "The kerbs are some of the best we've had compared to all the circuits; nice rumble strips that you can actually drive on."

However, Hamilton again fell foul of the stewards.

The Briton was penalised with a drop of three grid positions for Sunday's race, along with Sauber's Sergio Perez.

Both drivers have been hit hard after ignoring double waved yellow flags at the end of the opening practice session while Pastor Maldonado's Williams was being recovered following a spin.

Friday was not the first time a dog has gatecrashed an F1 weekend. Bruno Senna, the Renault driver, hit a stray dog at Istanbul Park while competing in a GP2 race ahead of the 2008 Turkish Grand Prix. The Brazilian said he was struggling to comprehend how such a scenario came so close to repeating itself.

"When I arrived at the track, I saw that exact dog walking around the entrance of the paddock," said Senna. "It shows that no one really paid attention to it and the fact that it got onto the track is difficult to believe."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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