Exactly 2 years ago, India hosted its first Grand Prix — a historic day for all Indian F1 lovers who came in droves to watch their idols burn rubber at the brand new Gautam Budh International Circuit at Greater Noida, near Delhi. Being an ardent fan of the sport myself, it was a dream come true to stand at the stands watching history unfold (Surely, an experience treasured likewise by the thousands of other fans who had flown down to watch the race). And hey, my experience was extra special…
For F1 fans, a visit to the stands is usually enough and mind you, it costs a fortune. So when a business acquaintance offered me the ULTIMATE – a Race-day Paddock Pass — it took me a while to absorb the reality!! The invite came with a special book, a unique identity card/ticket and details that left me just speechless. I flew down to Delhi in the morning of the race day – couldn’t help noticing a handful of others in the same flight, sporting their team jerseys and excited like school kids. An agonizing 1.5 hrs drive took me straight to the mall where the Lotus Team’s helpdesk was. And then a chauffeur-driven car got me straight to the Paddock where I was escorted to the Lotus team’s Lounge. The Paddock Pass comes with privileges a fan can only dream of – a 5* lounge access with international quality catering, gifts from the sponsor team, access to the pits, meeting the drivers and much more. The catering was best in class, provided by top 5* hotels. Even the staff were flew in from Europe!
And while the races are held late afternoon, much of the action outside the tracks starts by morning itself. There are some F3 races before the main event — watch them from just above the pits (a privilege again of the Paddock members). Remember I told you about a hamper full of Lotus team’s goodies? Guess what’s there in the hamper? A miniature driver-helmet, a replica of the car, team cap, custom-made earplugs, special gift set etc. Still in a daze, when I stepped out of the Lounge, I was hit by engine sound like no other. It was as though jet planes on afterburners were coming to get you. Now you know why earplugs were plentiful there!!
Look down from the balcony, and there was the Lotus Pit stop – just a few meters below and other team’s right next to them. The action at the pits before the race is legendary and experiencing it first-hand was beyond my wildest imagination!! Truly!! Every Paddock guest across teams were allowed to walk the pit lane, visit the team garages, be shown the car which was being readied, allowed to play with the straight-out-of-a-sci fi-movie steering wheel, walk past all the pits and gape at the crew, and of course spot sport-stars, film stars, CEOs all walking around like kindergarten kids in a zoo … taking pictures next to their team and each other!!!
Once back from this mind-boggling excursion, we quickly grabbed a fabulous 3-course lunch post which, it was time to meet the drivers!! The true stars!! They came in and signed the memorabilia’s – the team cap in my case, took questions from media and guests, posed for pictures and then went off to prepare for the race. Time stopped when India’s favorite F1 star-Michael Schumacher stepped out and greeted Indian legend – Sachin Tendulkar at the pit lane.
Soon the cars were pushed out and revved up by the engineers. The already deafening cheer knew no bounds when the drivers sat and started the warm-up lap. As the race started, the true fans hung around the stands, while the others went inside the lounges for the drinks and snacks, watching the race on large screens. You guessed it – I stood out all through unwilling to let go of any bit of the on-the-ground action. The pit stops were the most exciting as we could just look downwards and see the crew fill gas and change tyres in 6-7 sec flat – what I had so far seen on TV was happening right in front of me. Yeah!!!
As the race drew to a close, I crossed across to be next to the grand stand where the prize distribution was to take place. Sadly, the best spots had already been taken. Nonetheless, I managed a place few metres away from the podium with a clear view of the celebrations. Once the winners showed up, the cheering was unbelievable –champagne fizz, crowd hysteria – an unbelievable day had just come to a close.
Unbelievable. Unforgettable. Unmatched.
Also read — When We Almost Made It To The Monaco Grand Prix