F1: More than a race
After all we have heard of women going weak in the knees even though we are yet to see any. But come to a Formula One and you can actually see guys going shaky-kneed, keeling over balustrades, drooling like soft puppies and above all, making no effort to pull their tongues back in. When I see these low slung mammoths, thundering like a maniac released after decades of incarceration, whipping out 700 horses and capable of hitting 160 kmph in less than four seconds I just want to pounce on them and lick it all over. Probably drive one home if they won’t put me in jail for stealing it. But I am not the only one here.There is a fanatical following for Formula One races all over the world and it is a great boost to tourism. And this is not tourism of the regular kind, but the sought-after, high margin premium variety. The ticket prices say it all: at the Buddh International Circuit, the venue of F1 in India, last year’s ticket prices started at Rs 2,500 and went all the way up to Rs 35,000. Now I came to know that there were a different kind of seats, very limited in number, that elevate maybe, or tilt or swirl around perhaps, which were not put up on the market for the sheer reason that the prices were obscene. Or that they were beyond pricing – doled out dutifully for million-dollar favours received. Usually hand delivered to the fan as he lands in the country probably after the ongoing Japanese Grand Prix in his private jet.
“The stadium was filled to capacity last year,” a spokesperson for Jaypee Sports International, which owns the circuit, told me. The capacity is over a lakh or 100,000. This enthusiasm had its spill-out effects too. Even though the hoteliers in the region were cautious about cashing in on the inaugural edition of the race, the world over it is chakara or bountiful harvest. Hotel rates are hiked up to thrice the regular tariff as is the case with other services too including car rentals and food and liquor prices. In Noida, where the Buddh Circuit is situated, the Hilton and Double Tree properties were capacity-booked. The tour operators treaded slow last year as speculations abounded about postponement of the event, even cancellation. While there are no hard numbers to show, rough estimates showed that the spectators were mostly domestic who came from all over the country, clubbed it with either a trip to Agra or Jaipur. With a massive marketing budget this year, organisers are expecting to see more faces from West Asia and Europe as well.However, as with any event of such magnitude, there are the pitfalls as well. Ample security is one concern. In one headline event a few years ago, thugs forced their way into the cab a pit crew member was travelling in and forced him to empty out his account through an ATM. That it happened in Budapest is not really any comfort; in Delhi too there have been daring daylight heists recently. Then there are the memorable honey traps too. Tales abound from GP season all over the world about buxom belles luring fans into dark alleyways for a quick tour where they are trounced out of their wallets and valuables by waiting boyfriends or brothers. With only the second edition taking place this year, the event is still at its infancy in India. Even if this might mean that the dark elements could only be watching and perfecting their cons, it would still be a good idea to be careful.
Personally, I feel that the event will be roaring success. The organisers have been building up to the event with a carefully phased-out strategy. Throughout the year there have been events targeting not just the F1 fan but the speedster in general. After the first race, an enthusiastic crowd assembled in the circuit in April this year for the ‘Track Day’.“Most of the participants were hardcore high speed enthusiasts,” the spokesperson said. “There were also those who wanted to get a feel of the race. So we had people zipping around the circuit in cars like Maruti Alto and Hyundai i10.” The rates were tame at Rs 5,000 for two wheelers and Rs 8,000 for four-wheelers which also included training sessions on something like ‘how Schumi does it’ to access to mechanics. These track days have an increasing relevance as the number of people owning Ferraris and Lamborghinis, Hayabusas and Harleys are growing. “These super machines cannot be driven to their limits on the road.”
All these strategic events sounded like an elaborate foreplay – with scented candles and soothing chants. Now we are geared up for the shuddering, deafening three-day climax starting October 26.
(All photographs are courtesy of Jaypee Sports.)