Staying with the formula

When the Formula 1 circus first rolled into town a year ago, the fanfare surrounding India's entry into the echelon of motorsport was deafening — nearly as loud as an 18,000 rpm V8 engine. The sport had its fans in the country, sure, but what most found exciting was the razzle-dazzle of F1, the fast cars and the glamorous women thronging the pit lane. What followed was a frenzied rush to be part of this elite, exalted world with its millionaire drivers and billionaire owners.

This time round, though, some of the novelty had worn off. The reality of F1 — minimal overtaking, a certain predictability to the final result barring an act of god — had punctured the romanticised vision of champagne-swilling bad boys who got into these lean, mean and dangerous machines and risked life and limb for sport. Yes, F1 is still a dangerous sport but it is also a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and in this day and age the James Hunt archetype — a cigar-chomping and perhaps overweight playboy — wouldn't make it past the lower formulae. The drivers today, from defending world champion and current leader Sebastian Vettel to his more controversial rival Lewis Hamilton, are as mindful of the script as other professional athletes. Many have bemoaned the corporatisation of F1 after current promoter Bernie Ecclestone rearranged the commercial rights to F1, convincing team owners to collectively negotiate for their share of the money through a constructors' association in 1978. But had F1 not kept pace with the times, it would hardly be interested in exploring new markets (there is enough resistance to moving the sport out of its native territory, Europe) and it would never have come to India.

So here we are, then, at the second, considerably more muted edition of the Indian Grand Prix and though the noise surrounding the race has lessened, the outcome was the same: Vettel won the race in dominant fashion and eked out a minor lead at the top of the standings. He was hunted home by a superb Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari, who mitigated what could have been a terrible weekend from the championship perspective by finishing second. There was an exciting race behind Vettel — Alonso even overtook Webber and Button on track to claim second — and that encapsulated the joys and frustrations of F1.

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