Elephants with painted faces... monkeys riding pillion on motorcycles... cows almost everywhere... and a stray dog bringing out a red flag just moments into the opening free practice session: the wildlife around the Buddh International Circuit more than matched the menagerie inside as F1 paid its first visit to the sub-continent in 2011.
Buddh is another Hermann Tilke circuit and some said unequivocally that the track – very specifically, the part the cars run on – was his masterpiece: a fast, flowing layout with the trademark long straight, uphill Esses reminiscent of Suzuka, a sweeping double right-hander and a downhill swoop to the left-hand approach to the main straight.
The enthusiasm of the drivers once they got out there was infectious, with the blind uphill right-hander at the end of that long straight grabbing their attention in particular. Naturally Sebastian Vettel was on pole while Mark Webber made it an all-Red Bull affair when he inherited second spot thanks to Lewis Hamilton being docked three grid positions for failing to observe yellow flags after an off by Pastor Maldonado.
As a determined Vettel sped away to an historic victory, Jenson Button was equally resolute in the opening laps, blasting past Webber on that long straight and then resisting the Aussie’s efforts to regain the spot. Another ‘racing incident’ saw Hamilton and Felipe Massa‘s Ferrari clash yet again, the Brazilian (in his 150th start) being hit with a drive-through penalty for his trouble.
If there were rumblings about the legitimacy of F1’s presence on the sub-continent, many prominent members of India’s growing Grand Prix community did their best to dispel them – Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok were both desperate to get their cars out in front of their own fans – and overall, the reception from the locals outweighed any negatives. As Force India’s V.J. Mallya said, the place might have been just a little underdone, but the reception most certainly was not.
In 2012 it was another Red Bull celebration: pole for Vettel, front row for Webber, victory for Vettel. Again Webber lost second place, his virtually KERS-less Red Bull losing out this time to Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. One of the major causes for celebration over the race weekend was the 82nd birthday of one B. Ecclestone...