New Delhi, New Dawn - the Indian Grand Prix takes shape 26 Apr 2011
It takes two hours to drive the 57.4 kilometres from New Delhis Indira Gandhi International Airport to the Jaypee Green Sports City Project - and the newly named Buddh International Circuit - that from October 28-30 will host the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. During those two hours, transported (if youre wise) by taxi or chauffeur, youll experience an intense snapshot of emerging, aspirational India straining to release its one billion population from the shackles of poverty and crumbling infrastructure, and lift them into a modern technological age.
The new and the future will book-end your journey, from the 21st-century temple that is Indias busiest airport (steel, glass, a shrine to a sub-continents ambition), to the work-in progress that is Sports City.
In between, just a turn from highway to byway, youll encounter the teeming India of lore, on the fringes of New Delhi: a pair of working elephants hauling logs fight for road space with Tata lorries and Mahindra trucks; an overturned Tuc-Tuc jamming the middle lane reminds you of the parlous state of Indian road safety; a tap-tap-tap on the window as you slow for a red, leaves you staring destitution in the face - a dusty street kid saying please and making you intensely self-conscious about the two-grand camera on the back seat.
Inequality in India is nothing new, of course, and the arrival of Formula One later this year will throw the extremes into sharper relief than ever. But it is precisely because of what Formula One has come to represent that it has been courted by a variety of private and state Indian bodies - among them Kingfisher billionaire Vijay Mallya, owner of the Force India Formula One team, the New Delhi Municipal Council, and the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India (FMSCI).
For an economy now recognised as one of the worlds three most strongly emergent, alongside China and Brazil, Formula One racing represents both an affirmation of the countrys present position and a statement of intent. As Mallya observed last year: Indias economic growth, its young and aspirational demographic and the growing popularity of F1 make it one of the most attractive future destinations for a high-technology-driven and fantastically-competitive sport. It is a matter of pride that India is on the F1 calendar.
Its reckoned that the new Formula One circuit, located on brown-field land in Greater Noida, about 50 kilometres south-east of central Delhi, will generate approximately $170m in income, mostly for local hotel and tourism industries, and provide up to 10,000 jobs.
The investment required to make this happen is massive - an estimated $300 million (220 million). But a 10-year race deal has been granted, during which period that outlay will be recouped, while the sheen of Formula One brings with it many intangible benefits such as national prestige and global exposure for a host nation. Also very handy is F1s web of international business links.
Before any of this can be made real, however, come the practicalities: the bricks and mortar of circuit construction, and, on this particular day, preparations for an important visit from a man without whose say-so Indias motor-sport dream cannot be realised.
That man is Charlie Whiting, FIA Formula One race director, a fellow of the FIA Institute and the individual ultimately responsible for ensuring that all F1 circuits on any given seasons calendar meet the strict safety standards needed to satisfy homologation requirements - the governing bodys seal of approval. From the newest, such as this New Delhi track, or recent F1 additions South Korea and Abu Dhabi, to such long-established classics as Monte Carlo, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, all have to be up to FIA spec to host a grand prix.
However much investment has been made, however much political will there is for a Grand Prix to happen, only once a circuit is homologated is it deemed fit for purpose. And as was seen last October in South Korea, the granting of an FIA seal of approval can never be taken for granted. The Yeongam circuit was only skin-of-the-teeth ready and organisers had to rely on Whitings goodwill for an extension to their deadline for the final pre-race circuit inspection. Homologation was eventually granted only 10 days before the event.
He was the calm at the centre of a South Korean typhoon in those closing weeks, determinedly fulfilling his brief of ensuring that a prestigious new facility was F1-ready, even as frantic last-minute preparations went on all around, and the deadline pressures of the race calendar schedule - not to mention the small matter of staging an event that would play a crucial role in the outcome of the 2010 world championship - grew ever more intense.
As is (almost) always the F1 way, however, the Grand Prix went ahead, Whiting having been satisfied that the Korean International Circuits racing facilities, at least, were ready, even if the same could not be said for many of the other buildings in the architects plans.
Today in Noida, where Whiting is greeted with predictable effusion by a clutch of circuit officials, theres another beautiful architects vision to study: an intricately detailed 3D model of the circuit, its buildings, a nearby cricket stadium also planned, and the two lakes that will be landscaped in. But theres some tension in the air because this is a big day for the Tilke GmbH architects who have created the circuit design, and the Jaypee Group engineers who own the land on which the circuit is being built and who are in overall charge of construction.
With practised ease, Whiting lightens the mood, quipping that this is, in fact, the second time he has seen the circuit, having been treated to an aerial view the day before, while his flight circled before landing. I wondered if it had been laid on specially, he grins.
The atmosphere may be light, but the purpose is strictly business as Whiting, followed by a queue of 4x4s carrying a corps of engineers, planners, officials and minions, is whisked away for the days business proper - a couple of hours spent getting his shoes dirty on a detailed corner-by-corner inspection of the circuit.
The scale of whats involved in building a 21st-century Formula One facility becomes apparent as soon as you leave the complex of temporary buildings that are serving as circuit offices until the main constructions are complete. This is a huge civil engineering project involving, so far, 6500 workers, a vast fleet of earth-moving vehicles and all co-ordinated by Jaypees COO (Construction), Boris Lazaric, a Croat who has worked in India for 12 years and who built power stations in Kashmir before getting the call 14 months ago about an interesting project in Delhi.
The entire Jaypee Green development - cricket stadium and all - falls within his brief, but he admits that the deadline pressure of this years first Indian Grand Prix has put stadium construction on hold, otherwise it would have been impossible. Lazaric is in overall charge of this vast engineering project, which must deliver a race by late October.
Continued in Part Two.
Republished with permission from IQ - www.institutequarterly.com.
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