Paddock Postcard from New Delhi 30 Oct 2011
Every new event on the calendar is an exciting prospect for the teams and drivers, but when the paddock arrives in a city as bustling and buzzing as Delhi then the collective excitement goes into overdrive. Sampling the delicious food and sightseeing seemed to dominate the days leading up to the race weekend for most, but some found time to meet the locals.
Ferraris Felipe Massa was the guest of honour, along with a fiery red 458 Italia, at a dinner organised by Ferrari India at the Leela Palace Hotel. Team mate Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, in his role as a UNICEF ambassador, visited a paediatric hospital in the Indian capital, bringing gifts for the children who are being treated there, to celebrate the Diwali festival.
Those who are fortunate like me have a duty to do something for those who suffer and are disadvantaged, said Alonso, who administered oral polio drops to five infants in the hospital's Child Development Centre. Every child deserves the right to run, to play and to live a healthy life without polio, a terrible, crippling disease of children which we can and should eradicate.
I feel a great sense of responsibility as a UNICEF ambassador and I hope this initiative will help make everyone understand just how important a topic is vaccination against poliomyelitis. In recent years, giant steps forward have been made in this field, to combat this terrible illness, but there is still much to do, especially when it comes to the children.
Later, he was one of many drivers to sign a display of childrens paintings at the circuit, which would later be auctioned for charity in another FOM group initiative.
Also dominating the pre-race thoughts were the recent tragic deaths of MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli and IndyCars Dan Wheldon. Many drivers opted to remember the duo with customised helmets. Jarno Trulli, for example, was sporting a Simoncelli-inspired design and Alonsos helmet featured insignia for both. McLaren team mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, meanwhile, wore black armbands. There will also be a minutes silence immediately before the Grand Prix to remember the two men.
Force India looked to the future announcing the winners of their driver academy search. The team launched their One from a Billion Hunt back in April to find and support young Indian talent and following regional and then national finals, the best three were selected. Fourteen year-old Arjun Maini from Bangalore was chosen as the winner, while Chennai-born Tarun Reddy, also 14, took the first runner-up slot. The second runner-up slot was claimed by 13 year-old Jehan Daruvala from Mumbai.
The trio were selected by an expert panel which included Force India deputy team principal, Robert Fernley, former team boss Eddie Jordan, Lewis Hamilton's father Anthony Hamilton and Force India reserve Nico Hulkenberg. They will receive a fully-funded European-based driver programme to prepare them to become Formula One drivers and they will commence their journey with a go-karting programme in Europe.
The newly crowned F1 world champion, Sebastian Vettel, was also learning a new trade on Thursday, taking on Pirellis motorsport director Paul Hembery in a unique tyre fitting challenge. Vettel and Hembery both had to fit a P Zero tyre from scratch: mounting the tyre on the rim, inflating it to the right pressure and balancing it to the correct weight.
With the help of a Pirelli instructor each, Vettel and Hembery successfully completed the challenge - but both took a little longer than the professional fitters. Vettel completed the P Zero challenge in 5m 13s, whereas Hembery took 5m 44s, meaning that the Red Bull driver once again won.
It was good fun and interesting to have the duel against Paul, said Vettel. Last time I did something similar was in karting. When the Pirelli boys explained it to us it looked much easier than it actually was. Paul and I were pretty close time-wise and then towards the end my tyre decided to jump a bit earlier onto the rim, so I was controlling the lead until the chequered flag.
As the race drew closer, the paddock at Buddh International Circuit was alive with activity, and the organisers of the landmark event had brought in dancers from every Indian state to be part of an entertainment programme that included an elephant procession.
Bollywood stars Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Gulshan Grover rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart, comedian Rowan Atkinson and TATAs Ravi Kant, while Tom Walkinshaws widow Martine was present with son Ryan to watch other son Sean race in the Delhi Championship with MRF. Bathurst racer Nick Percat took pole position and the victory in the first race, with Britons Jordan King and Alice Powell second and third.
The F1 on-track action, meanwhile, heralded an interesting start to Saubers weekend. In a first for Formula One racing, the Swiss team arranged for an Indian priest to carry out a puja to bless their drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez and their cars on Friday ahead of Practice One. Force India also gave the pit lane an Indian flavour with the VJM04s special livery for the weekend, which promoted the new Indian blockbuster Ra.One, starring aforementioned Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan.
On Friday evening Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone enjoyed a surprise 81st birthday party when all of the team principals ambushed him for a celebration, and there are set to be more festivities with Lady Gagas race-closing concert. I find that a lot of my philosophies about art are mirrored in the Hindu religion, she tells fans. Like the idea of reincarnation: to be reborn in your true living days and not just after death.
Fast forwarding to Sunday and another Indian legend graced the sport with his presence, with cricketing star Sachin Tendulkar set to wave the chequered flag as the winning driver and his rivals cross the finishing line of the inaugural Indian race. Tendulkar is regarded as one of crickets greatest-ever batsmen and revered as a living legend in his home country, where billions of enthralled supporters watch his every move on the pitch.
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