I recently had the pleasure of making my first visit to India and was fortunate enough to be given an exclusive opportunity to take a look at the Buddh International Circuit, which plays host to this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix.
It’s the second time that the Hermann Tilke-designed circuit will play host to the Formula 1 circus. Fans will recall that last year’s inaugural event was not without some teething problems, and I was intrigued to discover how much progress had been made to improve things in the year in between.
Located about an hour’s drive southeast of the country’s capital, New Delhi, the Buddh International Circuit is built on 875 acres (355 hectares) of land in the burgeoning development of the town of Greater Noida.
It’s development – which cost over $200 million – was almost totally privately funded by the Jaypee Sports group, which owns much of the land in the region in which the circuit now lies.
Indeed, the Jaypee Greens Sports City – as the entire complex is known – will come to house a cricket stadium that seats 100,000 fans, an 18-hole golf course, a 25,000-seat hockey stadium and a sports academy to train young up-and-coming sports stars for generations to come.
The build-up to last year’s inaugural race is widely remembered. Following the farcical lead-up to the 2010 Korean Grand Prix – held in a partially-finished complex – the FIA was keen to avoid a repeat, and Indian officials gave every assurance that it was all on track.
However, inspection deadlines drew nearer and were missed, and as the clock ticked by, many feared that we could see a repeat of Korea, or even a replica of the disorganised build-up that had marred the recent Commonwealth Games and Cricket World Cup Finals tournaments that had recently been held in (frankly) substandard facilities.
But the organisers performed a miracle to get the track, at least, finished. On October 18 – just two weeks before the inaugural race – the FIA’s technical delegate Charlie Whiting gave the facility the green light to stage its maiden Grand Prix.
Not everything had been completed. Some grandstands would not be finished in time, and most of the cosmetic features around the circuit – such as the laying of turf and planting of trees – would have to wait.
Much of the electrical set-up was still being put together when the teams arrived, and the final coats of paint were being applied – to track and buildings – just a day before the first practice session would get underway. The track hadn’t had a proper clean, and the surrounding area – compounded by the lack of vegetation around the facility – was extremely dusty.
But if anyone was complaining inside the paddock, they very much kept it to themselves.
The drivers were unanimous in their praise of the five-kilometre circuit, and senior figures among all the teams were thrilled that Formula 1 was seriously getting a foothold in India, a country which had seen two of its own drivers – Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan – make the F1 stage.
The fans were lapping it up too. On race day, a capacity crowd of 110,000 people poured through the gates to watch Sebastian Vettel take a commanding grand chelem – pole position, leading every lap to win and setting the fastest race lap – in his quest to defend his championship title.
Post-race, and the organisers stepped up their plan to ensure that the 2012 race would be an improvement in all aspects. They used the cold winter period to gather all the feedback and draw up a list of all areas that required their attention: team and spectator facilities, track amenities, the track surface, accessibility.
As the winter eased, the team launched into action, and some eight months later, the RichardsF1.com team was privileged to take a look around at the finishing touches were being applied.
First impressions are immediate. We arrived at the media compound at the back of the circuit – accessed via an underpass beneath the circuit’s monstrous back straight – and approached the pit complex from the interior of the track.
The start/finish straight grandstand – which holds over 30,000 spectators in its own right – is a sight to behold. Standing almost ten stories tall at its peak, it towers over the equally beautiful pit and paddock facilities, sparkling in the traditional orange, white and green of the Indian flag.
Circuit designer Hermann Tilke has spared no amount of creativity with the circuit and facility design. The entire complex is incredibly modern and well-built – a credit to the team of builders and engineers who put this together – and it just sparkles in the tremendous summer heat that greeted us today.
Our guide today is a senior figure of the BIC group, and he’s more than happy to show us around and point out the areas they’ve paid particular attention to over recent months.
It’s hard not to spot the changes. The grandstands are all complete and there is an abundance of grass laid and trees planted. The interior lakes have been filled and the entire place is being spruced up ahead of the late-October arrival of the F1 fleet.
A walk along sections of the track and it’s hard not to see why the drivers loved the place. The elevation changes – such as the fourteen-metre climb between Turns 1 and 3 – are hardly done justice on the TV screens. There’s an incredible mix of corners around the complex, and our favourite is the banked double-right-hander at Turns 10 and 11, taken at well over 250km/h!
One of the most noticeable changes is to the track surface itself, which has been thoroughly cleaned of its vast quantities of dust. Today, it positively gleams in the sunshine.
As does the entire facility. This year’s race looks set to be another sell-out, and on the back of the standard of competition we’ve seen in previous races, the Indian event looks set to be an excellent instalment on the 2012 calendar, and for many years to come.