Exactly this time last year, just before the inaugural Indian GP, Vicky Chandhok, track consultant of the Buddh International Circuit was admittedly a nervous wreck. This year however, with a successfully staged Grand Prix under his belt, Chandhok, who is also the President of the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India (FMSCI), is a lot more at peace.
In fact, the 2011 Indian GP went on to win the Best Organised Race of the Year award by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone last year at the FIA Gala, and Chandhok is proud of what he and the venue’s owners the Jaypee Group have achieved in such a short span of time.
In an elaborate interview with MiD DAY, Chandhok speaks about what’s in store in the second edition of the Indian GP.
1) What are the lessons learnt from the inaugural Indian GP that will be put into practice at the second edition of the race?
As with any new event of this vast scale, there were bound to be a few hiccups along the way. What encouraged all of us most however was the positive response we got from people across the Formula 1 fraternity about the organisation of the GP, the venue itself and the people of India. We were in fact awarded the “Best Organised Race of the Year” by the FIA and Mr. Bernie Ecclestone last year at the FIA Gala, which is no mean feat! As with every other circuit, we had a series of meetings with the FIA after the first race to discuss the various ways to tweak things and add to the experience even more and those changes have been incorporated this year. From an organisational viewpoint, I’d have to say that the second edition might be a little easier given that we’ve now done it once and know what we are in for!
2) Are there any physical changes track side or in the stands or pit lane or garage areas that we will witness at the second edition of the Indian GP?
The kerb length at turn eight and nine has been extended from 5m to 15m and the height of all the kerbs across the circuit now at 25 mm to discourage drivers from using any shortcuts. Astroturf lining at turn two, three, seven and eight have also been incorporated to provide additional safety at run-off areas. Special mechanised dusters have also been hired and these will start working to clean up the minutest of dust particles from all over the track, which cannot be washed with regular dusters. Parking capacity has also been increased and a number of pre-booked chartered buses from Noida City Centre metro station will also be functioning to ferry spectators to the venue.
3) Obviously the dog incident made headlines last year. Any particular steps have been taken to ensure that such a thing does not happen this time round?
Obviously it wasn’t ideal and yes it shouldn’t have happened but small incidents are bound to happen with any new event of this scale. Oddly enough though, the “dog incident” only made headlines with the Indian media while most global media barely even made a mention of it and instead focused on the positives that came out of the spectacle. I hope we start to look at the numerous positives at some stage as well!
4) There have been reports that the anticipation or the excitement levels ahead of the Indian GP this time round have not been as high as last time. Do you agree with that? If yes, what reasons would you attribute to this?
Well I think it probably is fair to say that the excitement levels are not AS high as last year but that is the case with any first of its kind event. The novelty factor is the same as any first-day-first-show movie or the first game of a cricket world cup.
Last year saw F1 come to India for the first time ever and clearly that was going to be huge. The key is to ensure that there is enough interest to keep the crowds pouring in. This year’s race could play a vital role in the Championship as well and I hope that draws the crowds in.
5) Ticket prices have been reduced but even then only around 65 percent of sales have reportedly come around yet. Do you think the Indian audience is yet to wholeheartedly understand and accept Formula One?
Again, last years novelty factor clearly plays a major role here. We need to really judge the event and F1’s impact on India over the next 4 years, even perhaps taking away the first year. Even if we get 60000 people to the race on Sunday, that’s still a very good crowd when you compare to the other new venues like Bahrain, China, Abu Dhabi or Turkey.
6) When the Indian GP happened last year a lot was said about ensuring that the Buddh Circuit be used more often for other races too, but sadly nothing much has come about here since. Why do you think the circuit remains under-utilised? Is it that difficult to bring in international events into the Indian market?
The Jaypee Group, after the first race, undertook a programme of carrying out a number of small detailed changes and therefore had to be selective in deciding which events could and couldn’t run at the circuit. They have hosted a number of corporate events and track days for various manufacturers and were scheduled obviously a round of the GT1 World Championship which didn’t happen due to issues with the series itself. Going forward over the next 12 months, you will see plenty of National and International events, including the Superbike World Championship coming to the BIC.
Obviously the pressure and excitement of organising the inaugural Indian GP must have been crazy. But now to ensure you can repeat another successful race this year must be a tougher task. What are the emotions you're going through as we head into the final week before the Indian GP?
If anything, this year is a bit of a simpler task. Organising an event of this scale are never easy and you always have to expect the unexpected but our teams are now in place and are more prepared to deal with any situations that may arise. We are therefore probably more confident this year going into what should be another great but tiring week ahead.