x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Indian Grand Prix: Baby steps receive everyone's thumbs up

Teething issues such as poor signage and sporadic power outages at the Indian Grand Prix are overlooked by the teams ahead of the Formula One weekend.

Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver, right, has a bit of fun driving an auto rickshaw at the Buddh International Circuit, in Greater Noida, on Thursday. Button is second in the driver’s standings.
Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver, right, has a bit of fun driving an auto rickshaw at the Buddh International Circuit, in Greater Noida, on Thursday. Button is second in the driver’s standings.

Dysentery and Delhi belly held the fearful focus of the Formula One fraternity ahead of the sport's inaugural visit to India, yet by the end of the first afternoon of activity at Buddh International Circuit on Thursday, attention had turned away from potential stomach problems to centre instead on organisers' determination to overcome teething problems and do their country proud.

The US$400-million (Dh1.47 billion) circuit is located in Greater Noida, an industrial outback more than 50km from New Delhi and this weekend's Indian Grand Prix will mark its official opening.

Thursday saw the drivers arrive for the first time, but poor signage on the custom-built expressway leading to the circuit caused confusion, while police at checkpoints turned away taxis that did not carry official car park passes, leaving some visitors unable to immediately gain access.

Having safely arrived - past the rows of colourful auto rickshaws and waving, smiling children - the race teams were greeted with sporadic power outages.

One member of the Williams team said mouse droppings had been found in their hospitality facility, while Team Lotus reported a rat had been spotted scurrying around the team garage.

In the media centre, a bat was disturbed from its sleep only to entertain international media by flitting around the high ceiling before escaping out of a nearby door.

India, a country famously proud of its mix of cultures, was widely criticised ahead of its hosting of the Commonwealth Games last year when teams arrived in the country ready to compete only to find accommodation "unfit for human habitation".

Askari Zaidi, the managing director of the Buddh circuit, said last year's condemnation was something he was distinctly aware of in the run-up to welcoming the world once again this weekend.

"The Commonwealth Games were not badly organised," he said. "But what happened was for four or five months before the Games there was rain, the construction was leaking and there was no time to clean it up properly.

"We had this in mind - that they could not do it so well - so we said, 'If we are doing it, we will give it a very good show'."

Zaidi said "everything is ready" and cited a trial run that took place last week, adding "All the systems were working and everything was fine."

He did acknowledge, however, that, "it is our first time and our staff are not that trained."

Vicky Chandhok, father of Team Lotus's reserve driver Karun Chandhok and the president of India's motorsport federation, described the venue as "rough and ready", conceding it would experience "endless teething problems".

Yet for all the hitches and explanations, there was nothing but compliments for the subcontinent's newest circuit from outsiders.

Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's commercial rights holder, called the facility "super" as labourers painted road markings hurriedly nearby.

"They did everything we wanted them to do within, what, two or three years of reaching the agreement?" Ecclestone said. "It took Silverstone 25 years, so I think they've done very well."

Ross Brawn, the Mercedes-GP team principal, said he had no complaints and that such logistical issues are to be expected from a new development.

"The facilities are good," he said. "Clearly it has just been finished, but we understand that and we are not criticising that.

"We know that next year there will be another step forward because it has been a massive challenge for everybody to get it finished.

"We are very tolerant and understanding of the situation."

During the official news conference to mark the start of India's first F1 race weekend, six of the participating drivers were left in darkness as the electricity failed.

Rubens Barrichello was in the middle of answering a question by The National when the incident occurred.

When the power returned, the Brazilian said: "I really hope this doesn't happen when we are on the track".

A full-scale trial was carried out an hour later with no issue and the drivers will take to the track this morning for the first time.

Narain Karthikeyan, India's sole flag flyer in Sunday's race, said he cannot wait.

"I did not think in my racing career that I would be racing in India and here we are just around the corner," said the Chennai-native, who also revealed he had been inundated by "thousands of requests for passes".

"It's a huge day for Indian motorsport and those first few laps are going to be very special."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae


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