When cricket and Formula 1 coincide

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2011, 12:00am


I don't know if many petrolheads are also cricket fans, but I am. There aren't many times the two sports collide, but there was a connection the other day.

I was lounging, trying to put off work by watching England getting stuffed by India in a one-dayer on the subcontinent. I noticed one of the adverts painted on the grass was for this weekend's F1 race in India. I don't think the advert was necessary, certainly for home fans. India has been abuzz with excitement as the day approaches for their first ever Formula One race.

New races seem to be two a penny nowadays. Note the announcement this week of a street race to be held in New Jersey in the States from 2013. The USA will be back on the calendar next year in Texas.

India though will be different. The Indian people are different. Their enthusiasm for sport, their engaging lack of cynicism and their love of their country will make it a grand prix like no other.

At the cricket every four, every six and every victory is usually cheered to the rafters. Players often say they can't hear each other out in the middle. (The just-completed India v England one-day series, played out before disappointingly small crowds, did not reflect much of this enthusiasm, but there were specific reasons for this, as discussed on the page opposite this column.)

It may be a bit different at the Buddh International Circuit, but with a capacity of 150,000 seats, the fans might give the cars a run for their money in terms of decibel count.

Interest levels are high. Just take a peek at Karun Chandhok's Twitter page, and it would seem he is spending every waking minute giving interviews. The Lotus reserve driver isn't even driving, unlike his compatriot Narain Karthikeyan.

In many ways, the race is a microcosm of India. The new track is part of ambitious plans for a sports city on the site. It's like many other projects as India continues its emerging role as an economic superpower. But as those with the money, power and education get ahead, millions of others are left behind in poverty.

Even those who benefit can suffer. The Guardian newspaper in Britain visited the small village of Narangpura next to the track. Many villagers have received huge amounts from the construction company, and these sums have been spent on large new houses and big new cars.

But it's not all good news. Some told of having no plans once the money has been spent, with their land already gone. It's reported that alcoholism and domestic violence have reached new levels. Some schoolchildren can no longer walk to a local school, but have to take an hour bus ride around the track. It would seem that progress and recognition in the eyes of the world will have come at a price.

Readers of this column may remember safety being the topic of conversation before the Belgium Grand Prix. Back in the day, the municipality Spa used to be one of the most dangerous places to race on the planet, but that accolade seems now to rest in the US.

Dan Wheldon's fatal crash in the last IndyCar race of the season in Las Vegas was an accident waiting to happen. Thirty-four cars racing at over 360km/h on a short oval track is not the safest way to go racing.

Neither is a hefty financial incentive for any back marker who could come through the tightly packed field to win the race.

The crash is being described as the American series' 'Senna moment'. Formula One's safety has improved immeasurably since Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenburger died in one Imola race weekend in 1994. No driver has died in F1 since, but Wheldon's death was the seventh in the same space of time for IndyCar.

The style of racing may be dangerous, but so are the cars themselves. Heavy and outdated they were described as 'positively agricultural' by former F1 driver Anthony Davidson. Dan Wheldon had been testing a new lighter and safer chassis from Dallara that will be used next season and named in honour of the dead racer.

Wheldon's death was followed in short order by MotoGP's Marco Simoncelli in Malaysia. On two wheels there is so much less protection that every time there is an accident there is a danger of something bad happening. Injury is common; only the week before Jorge Lorenzo managed to slice part of his finger off in an accident. There have been 47 deaths since the series was founded in 1949. It takes a truly brave soul to compete.