It was a day of redemption, chaos, crashes, wins, and some no-wins. It was also a day of an unlikely mass of people – in heels and sneakers, Ferraris, Audis, and buses – all rubbing shoulders; of women in high heels limping by painfully as they walked up and down the circuit, of men obsessively buying their favourite team’s flags and, yes, credit card machines that stopped working. But let’s start at the beginning: with a bus ride.
The organizers very plaintively informed us, who waited rather irritably for over half an hour at the bus stop that they had learned from their previous day’s mistakes. It will be better they promised. And it was – at least in the beginning. But let’s not nitpick, I say. Let’s skip the travelling-over-50-kms-one-way part and head straight to the circuit. At least today – it’s the Qualifying and as I realized earlier, everything is usually forgotten when those gleaming cars hit the track.
The beautiful Picnic Stand North is like a small undulating meadow with orange umbrellas. And today, it was packed. I promise, it is a sight we will probably only see once a year in Noida. The air was buzzing and as Vettel, Button, Massa, Alonso, and Hamilton zipped by, the favourites were obvious. It seemed like people had been a-shopping – the Ferrari and McLaren flags were up, the team colours were being worn rather proudly, and loud cheers followed the throaty roar of V-8 engines as they zipped by. Of course, the support races were easy on the eyes, like bumble bees buzzing. Now, let’s pause here for a moment.
The Picnic Stand North affords a rather classic view. There’s the teensy-weensy bit of the grid, a smooth Turn 1, the curve of Turn 2, the elevation and then Turn 3. There’s one particular point, from where you can see the straight as far as the eye can see, before the cars disappear. So, the Qualifying had spectators, rushing up and down the greens, pausing midway to staring open-mouthed at the cars, all forgotten, before rushing forward to take photographs. There were of course, your usual stragglers – the spectators who had either been dragged to the circuit by their F1-crazy friend/spouse/parent, who just looked terribly, terribly puzzled. It’s a passion, I guess, few can comprehend.
As the Qualifying slipped into the third gear, the grid line-up was becoming clearer, as were the leaders. Predictably, it was Vettel leading, followed by (surprise!) Hamilton. Massa was giving Vettel a run for his money until he crashed into the barrier. The crowd gasped and Ferrari supporters groaned. But then tomorrow is another day. A special day, the Race Day. And for the first time, history will be made at the Buddh International Circuit.
Stopped to gawk at: More dancers painted in different colours performing on the tiny stage behind the main grandstand. Then there were acrobatics of an odd sort – a man with 3 sticks (weird!), and of course, let’s not forget the plaintive emcee who was trying to get people to write words on a board (again!!).
Noticed: A gigantic billboard with a picture of Mayawati talking about ‘fastest progress’ and an F1 car, dotting the roads to and from the circuit. I nearly choked on my sandwich.
An Oopsie moment: The merchandise stalls! Credit card machines weren’t working and the infamous ATM (that everyone had been promised would be accessible) was in the main grand stand area, a fence leap away. Do you have grandstand tickets? No? Then, you can’t go there to withdraw cash. It was enough to send the customers and the merchandise sellers into a tizzy. One of them, a British national who sets up a stall at most F1 races, told me, “The organizers should have gone to the US first to see how they do it. Then and only then set up things here. The US, they know how it do stuff like this.”