A shower of memories flooded me on 30/10/2011 as I sat down to watch the inaugural session of Formula One Indian Grand Prix. The elite sport commenced at 3 pm on India's Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida and the sixty lap race spanning roughly two hours gripped my interest wholly.
Sitting in front of the television, I recollected some of my father's conversations on motor cycle racing, the magic this sport weaved back in 1980s in Sholavaram circuit, near Chennai. The Indian Grand Prix commenced and Vroom Vroommmed the super machines. My father remained an avid fan of bikes and motor cycle racing in 1980s, his young days. During a span of 8 years, from his age 25-33, he owned two Royal Enfield Bullet bikes and two YEZDI. As a kid, I could figure out my dad arrived home by picking up the majestic DUD..DUD..DUD notes of his bike. I proudly occupied a place on his bike's fuel tank. As per his accounts, the first race I saw was the last race held at Sholavaram circuit in 1988. However, I do not carry memories of this racing circuit, once an air strip during World War II times. The Madras Motor Sports Club, thereafter, changed the venue of racing from Sholavaram to Irungattukottai, near Sriperumbadur, off Chennai.
Passionate about racing, powerful bikes and cars, rallies - few of which he has been a part himself, my father took me to many races held at Irungattukottai. Images of this race track remain clearly etched in my memory - a gigantic MRF tyre arch at the head of the circuit, stands made of wooden planks for audience and few special stands/glass towers for the rich class.
Come February every year, my father would take us all - me, my mother, my cousins, aunts and uncles who visited us at that time, to the Formula 3 races at this venue. This was an era of glorious names like Karivaradhan, J. Anand, Vicky Chandok, Akbar Ebrahim and Vijay Mallaya.
Anyone with an iota of interest in motor sports in 1990s could not afford to feign ignorance when the name Sundaram Karivaradhan was mentioned. This legend hailed from a wealthy business family of Coimbatore (Lakshmi Mills), remained reticent in social spheres and highly committed to the advent and steady progress of motor racing in India. The impetus he provided inspired and sprung forth the current heroes - Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandok and Armaan Ebrahim. Formula India Single Seater Maruti Engine was Kari's brain child and with it began the first and complete tryst of India with this sport, a sport that does not stop with flushing gallons of adrenaline in its drivers but instills a huge rush of this hormone in its audience too. Cars would zoom and whroom past, lap after lap, fast, faster and fastest each time. Whizz men were unfazed by the deadly turns and corners, they cracked it all in a fiery fashion. Speed meant absolute power!
The constant buzz of the Formula One cars - Ferrari, Renault and Mc Laren Mercedes etc on Buddh International Circuit gave me a quiet sense of satisfaction and happiness, I was lucky to have witnessed Formula 3 races at Irungattukottai at least over 4 years during my childhood times. Probably, this introduction to motor sports, in my home town, at a young age inspired me to follow Formula One intently.
Come lap 24 of the Indian Grand Prix; a fiery battle ensued between Felipe Massa of Ferrari team and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes, their cars cut across and collided for the fifth time this season. The feud on television, quite reminded me of rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in 1989-91. I followed rivalry between these two drivers much more intently than the on-field battles between India and Pakistan in cricket. Ayrton Senna's death in 1994 San Marino Grand Prix pained me terribly. His death evoked a sense of fear and overshadowed the sense of awe I had for the sport. The period of abysmal interest towards Formula One halted with the entry of iconic Michael Schumacher. His unbeaten championships from 2000-2004 pumped up zeal. He and Ferrari made an indomitable combination, his prowess at the wheel was and remains unsurpassable. People knew results of the race he participated in before they began.
Path was paved for few greenhorns in the sport with Michael Schumacher's retirement announced in 2006.His return to Formula One with Mercedes GP team in 2010 assured the king cannot stay away from his empire and subjects for long. At the age of 42, he churned out a rank 5 in the Indian Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel, the young gun (a double champion now) led every lap, right from start to finish, turned the apple of eye of every Indian who watched the race that Sunday. Vettel equalled Michael Schumachers' record of 11 wins in a season yet leaving most critics admit that the former had a long way to go before being placed at par with the Messiah.
The Buddh International circuit looked fantastic with its cynical combination of turns - thanks to its architect - Hermann Tilke. Champagne poured lavishly on the podium, smiles shone on faces of Sebastian Vettel (1), Jenson Button (2) and Fernando Alonso(3). The opulence that evaded India for long, arrived in a weekend in October 2011at the cost of farmers' land, humongous funds during economic downturn times and many more factors that are busily analysed by media. I am not sure if we deserve to and will be able to play host to this splendid power packed sport. All I can say is that - the two hours long event on Oct 30, 2011 helped me revive some lost interest in Formula One and I snugly relished the memorable journey from Sholavaram times to F1 Indian Grand Prix at Buddh International Circuit.