With the inaugural Indian Formula One Grand Prix only a month away, Lady Gaga has been confirmed for the after-race concert, but will the track be ready to race on?
Sports fans from commonwealth countries will be familiar with India’s ability to host major sporting events. They will also be aware of the anxiety that goes along with the lead-up to an India-hosted spectacle.
In 2010, India was host to the Commonwealth Games—a sort of second-rate Olympic Games—in Delhi.
With teams from 71 countries attending the Games, there was a lot of concern that venues would not be ready and that competition could not go ahead as scheduled.
As little as two weeks before the opening ceremony, the Games village was inspected by officials and found to be unsuitable for the athletes to occupy. Venues were incomplete and untested, a footbridge collapsed and even a scoreboard crashed to the ground at the rugby venue.
Parts of the pool complex's ceiling fell into the pool on the first night of competition. Part of the ceiling also collapsed in the weightlifting venue. Parts of the athletics' track and grass in the main arena were being laid only two hours before the start of competition.
However, the games went ahead and were as exciting, enthralling and seemingly well hosted as any other. Most of the concerns were unfounded and, despite the teething problems, they held a great event.
India also hosted the 2011 Cricket World Cup—cricket is a bat and ball game that defies an easy explanation—and, again, the same problems came to the fore.
This time, one of the competition's most keenly anticipated games between England and host India had to be moved to another ground because the flagship Eden Gardens stadium was still undergoing renovations.
The rest of the tournament proceeded without much in the way of incident.
The brand new Buddh International Circuit, which will be home to the Indian Grand Prix, is still under construction only a month away from the green flag (they don’t actually start with a green flag, but “the red lights going out” isn’t terribly prosaic), but that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
Interestingly, the circuit was given the tick of approval by F1’s go-to guy, Charlie Whiting, on September 1, 2011—yet video coming out of the circuit showed asphalt still being laid on the pit straight on the very same day.
Nevertheless, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has decreed that the race will go ahead, and so it shall.
The problem is that racetracks take time to bed in. The oils that go into the bitumen are still coming out of the material as it cures, making the surface slippery when wet and sticky when it’s hot, which then attracts dust and becomes unsafe to drive on.
We only have to go back to Korea in 2010 to see what happens when you get the combination of those events (hot days, dusty track and torrential rain) and the consequences affecting the race. It was slippery, exciting and the drivers had to finish the race with miner's helmets just to see where they were going!
However, a green track is a green track, no matter how long it has been laid; until it has been raced on, the problems won't go away. Anyway, this is a Tilke track—it needs excitement to come from somewhere.
So why rush? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until 2012 before scheduling a race in India?
No. This is India, and if the race was scheduled for a weekend in June 2012, it would be ready on the Friday morning before free practice.
They are the masters of just-in-time production. Somehow, everything will be ready in time and the event will be a success. It may lack the polish of, say, the Middle Eastern countries that have limitless money to spend on construction projects, but it will work and they will surprise us all.
Let’s hope so, anyway.
You can see the latest pictures from Karun Chandhok here.