Indian GP: A formula lost by the authorities
The sanitized version of F1 witnessed at the Indian GP doesn't even come close to what the race used to be.
I'm cynical about the state of Formula One today.
Having grown up watching masterful drives by Ayrton Senna, Keke Rosberg overtaking four cars to win in Monaco, and Nigel Mansell hauling in Nelson Piquet lap-by-lap in the 1987 British GP, I had no better way of spending my Sunday afternoon.
The frequent crashes and the unreliability of so many of the cars added to the spice. There was bitter rivalry between teammates, huge egos, heavy cars with big turbo-charged engines and blistering horsepower. It was sport on the grandest scale.
Fast-forward to 2011, Formula One would seem almost unrecognisable. It has been tweaked, sanitised and generally messed around with in a way that no other sport has. In fact, some even struggle to associate F1 with sport at all. The irony is that the more the sport spreads its wings you’d be regularly reminded that the inaugural Indian GP takes place today at the Buddh International Circuit — the further it travels away from its soul.
It’s partly to do with modern economics, of course. Lightweight, carbon-fibre chassis are intrinsically safer and can be pushed around relatively quickly by a smaller engine which consumes less fuel. Sometimes the safety measures seem excessive. The Canadian GP this year started under yellow flag because it was raining, meaning nobody was allowed to overtake anyone until the rain stopped.
In the wake of Senna’s fatal crash in 1994, circuits were slowed down with chicanes; the most dangerous bits of track were rendered almost impotent. And yet, a timely reminder that F1 is right to have turned down the revs and ramped up the safety came with the appalling crash that led to the death of Dan Wheldon in an IndyCar race earlier this month.
“When the helmet goes on, you don’t think about the negative stuff,” said Mark Webber on the safety issue. “You race hard and do what’s right. As a professional racing driver, what’s right is to drive the car completely on the limit and get as much as you can out of it. That means you put yourself in dangerous situations."
“We know that generally everything will be OK, even when we crash. We simply get back in the car and go again.”
Maybe I’m wrong to be so disparaging about the sanitised version of F1 that is so different to the F1 I cherish from my childhood. Maybe the Indian fans who witness the sport for the first time today will take home happy memories of their day out.
Perhaps it won’t be another Vettel procession — the German has already won 10 races this season in a car that renders even the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, even the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, virtually powerless.
However recent form suggests it won’t be a thrilling sporting spectacle.