• Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column

One big weekend

Karun Chandhok November 3, 2011
Karun Chandhok got his chance to drive the new circuit on Friday morning © Sutton Images
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The Indian Grand Prix has been a tremendous success and an event that everyone at the Jaypee Group should be proud of. I said before the weekend that the three main elements required to make the event a success were a good crowd, a track the drivers liked and good support from the media. In the end, we had over 100,000 people, the drivers unanimously praised the circuit, the international media enjoyed themselves and the coverage from the media in India was unprecedented.

It was fantastic to see so much support from around the country with everyone gripped with F1 fever. The best of sport and Bollywood showed up to lend their endorsement to the event with Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor and Arjun Rampal being joined by Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. The world of politics was well represented with two Chief Ministers Omar Abdulla and Ms. Mayawati both present amongst a host of high level representatives from corporate India.

Sebastian Vettel carried on his tremendous form to win the first Indian Grand Prix in dominant style. The reigning and current world champion started at the front and was never headed all through the race, proving once again just why he deserves to be the youngest double world champion in history. His 13th pole position of the season once again laid the foundation for the work to be completed on Sunday and as soon as they got past turn one, there was never really ever going to be another outcome.

The two Red Bulls got off the line strongly but Button crucially got through to second on the first lap on the run to turn 4, as Alonso slid wide under braking, letting Webber keep third. The Australian mounted some vigorous attacks on Button over the opening laps, before the McLaren managed to escape and head off for an ultimately uncontested second.

As the race progressed, the Aussie was always under pressure from Alonso in the opening two-thirds of the race. The Ferrari ace in my opinion is the best race driver on the grid when it comes to having the ability to run lap after lap at a relentless pace while managing the tyres. Once again he proved it hounding Webber until the final round of pitstops. The Red Bulls seemed to be the only team to really make the harder tyre work this weekend, yet when Mark switched to them at the final stop he struggled to get the pace out of the tyres on the opening two laps which allowed Alonso to sneak ahead.

Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa's turbulent season continued with yet another collision. The Brazilian had got ahead of the McLaren on the first lap and was a safe distance ahead until an error going into turn one just before half-distance left Massa vulnerable to attacks from Hamilton. After several failed attempts, Hamilton went down the inside at Turn 5 - with the stewards deciding Massa was at fault for leaving insufficient room and giving the Brazilian a drive-through penalty. Massa later retired when he smashed his suspension on a kerb, just as he had in qualifying, while Hamilton recovered from ninth to seventh after pitting for a new front wing.

Michael Schumacher's race pace can no longer be questioned © Getty Images
Michael Schumacher's was one of the best drives of the day. A fast start and a good consistent run moved him up the order from 11th on the grid all the way up to 5th and ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg. Many critics this weekend asked me "why did Michael come back?" but to be honest once you analyse this season, he has actually had a stronger run in the races than Nico has for most of the second half of the year. If you look at Canada, Spa, Monza and here in India Michael's Sunday performances have been very good given his current car disadvantage relative to the Red Bulls, McLarens and Ferraris. Perhaps in qualifying the seven-time world champion is still not a match for his team-mate, but his race pace cannot be questioned anymore.

Overall the Buddh International Circuit was a hit with the drivers, with many of them complimenting the fast flowing nature of the lap. Plans are already being made to counter any question marks about dust away from the racing line for next year to make the overtaking opportunities a bit easier, but in general there was enough action to keep the capacity crowd entertained. India has certainly arrived on the F1 calendar with a bang!