As hype dust settles, a great race emerges
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India's greatest batsman did not wave the chequered flag over Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull on the start-finish line. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh did not deliver the trophy to the German driver at the presentation ceremony. And King Khan did not occupy a suite in the paddock club to prepare for the night's after-party.
But the second edition of the Indian Grand Prix in Greater Noida was still a huge success.
Unlike in 2011, the big-name celebrities gave the 17th Formula 1 race of this season a miss. But this time around, the very thrill of pure racing gave the audiences — also noticeably fewer in number than last October — their money's worth. At the Buddh International Circuit on Sunday, Grand Prix racing won. The peripherals came a distant second.
If the first Indian GP was about the novelty of an F1 race on Indian soil, the second one was about the race itself. And what a race it was. Winner Vettel extended his slender championship lead to 17 points, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso drove out of his skin to climb from fifth to second and keep the pressure on Vettel, and Mark Webber pushed his faulty Red Bull to the limit to hold off McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. And in the process, take the last position on the podium.
This pivotal race could have taken place anywhere and been just as good. But it happened in India, and the 65,000 racing fans — far less than the 95,000 spectators last year — scattered around the track will consider themselves lucky. India is an important market, and a breathtaking race — not ticket sales — was of paramount importance to F1 and its supremo, Bernie Ecclestone.
"We always see more fans in the first year of F1 in any country. Then it drops in the second," said Ecclestone, who celebrated his 82nd birthday in the paddock today.