Come October, it is Formula One that takes centre-stage in a cricket-crazed nation. Not far from the capital city of New Delhi, the Buddh International Circuit is located in Greater Noida. It is the home of the annual Indian Grand Prix, playing host to all the F1 drivers and teams, as the battle for supremacy resumes at what is one of the last few races of the Formula One season.
The race weekend happens to fall somewhere in the middle of the frenetic festive season, and is one of India’s major international sporting events, attracting massive crowds from all over the country.
India is a relatively new entrant on the Formula One map, having hosted just one race entering the event in 2012.
In spite of that, the Buddh International Circuit is one of the finest tracks across the continent and perhaps amongst the finest in the world. It must be noted that BIC was awarded the “Motorsport Facility of the Year” award at the Professional Motorsport World Expo 2011, held in Cologne, Germany, barely a few months after it played host to the first Formula One race in India.
Come March 2013, the BIC will also be the venue for a round of the Superbike World Championship (WSBK).
Designed by the much acclaimed German racetrack designer Hermann Tilke, the BIC is a 5.14 kilometre long circuit, with 16 corners, and a track width that varies from 10 to 14 metres.
The Indian Grand Prix comprises of 60 laps. It is intriguing to note that most drivers finishing amidst the points in 2012 happened to put their faith in a one pit stop strategy, whereas in 2011, the majority opted for a two pit stop strategy.
For those up for some trivia, the top speed a Formula One car can attain on the circuit is roughly 320 km/hour.
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There are adequate food arrangements in place at the BIC, although it is critical to note that the prices are rather high.
I was surprised and disappointed to find that there was no non-vegetarian food on offer this time around, at the second Indian Grand Prix.
Potato wafers and other assorted snacks are generally sold for Rs 50. Meanwhile, vegetarian burgers are available for Rs 200, as are the Indian delicacies like Pav Bhaji. Considering the amount of money you're parting with, the quality is something of a disappointment.
You can fetch yourself a pint of beer for Rs 200, which is the Rupee equivalent of roughly $4 US.
Of course, those people fortunate enough to be holders of Main Grand Stand tickets also gain access to the hospitality lounge, and that implies better food and beverage.
The atmosphere on Race day is electric. The heat, the dust flying around on the track; it all contributes to the aura of the place.
One can hardly complain about the weather, though, as the end of October is perhaps the perfect time for an event of this magnitude. While most days are sunny, the temperature is rather moderate.
I found myself placed in the South Zone. As it turned out, the decision to carry binoculars was one that paid off, as the screen displaying the leaderboard was far off in the distance.
The West and North Zones, meanwhile, are arguably the best spots from which to get a taste of the action. From these seats, you will be able to catch the start of the race, when the five red lights go out; possibly even get a glimpse of the chequered flag waved as the winner begins his victory lap.
Moreover, the pit lanes are just in front of the West Zone, and spectators here get a decent view of the all-important pit stops.
The most expensive tickets are for the Platinum enclosures. It is said that the view of the action is the best from this spot, and the sound of the racket outside barely creeps in. That, coupled with the VIP treatment, must indeed make for an excellent experience.
Greater Noida is in Uttar Pradesh, which happens to be the most populated state in the country. It falls in the National Capital Region (NCR) of India, the largest urban agglomeration in the world, in terms of area.
It is within striking distance of New Delhi. BIC is a mere 40 miles away from the capital city's Indira Gandhi International Airport.
The BIC is a part of the Jaypee Greens Sports City, a colossal one-of-a-kind complex with not just residential areas offering a spectacular view, but also a cricket stadium, a golf course and a number of other sports arenas. Spread over 2,500 acres, it is equipped with all modern facilities.
The area surrounding the circuit is all recently developed.
Somewhat isolated from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the NCR, the Jaypee Greens Sports is one of the Jaypee Groups' most ambitious projects. Noida International University and Galgotias College of Engineering and Technology are perhaps the only places in close vicinity of this complex.
Indian fans sure know how to generate a cracking atmosphere.
Locals are obviously familiar with the biggies of the sport like Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, and indeed, yesteryear icon Michael Schumacher.
With Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan in the fray, representing Hispania Racing, the crowd had a local hero to cheer for in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Sahara Force India duo of Nico Hulkenburg and Paul di Resta, representatives of the only Indian outfit on the grid, enjoyed good support once again in 2012.
Although F1 doesn't exactly have a big follower base in the country, those in attendance do show a keen interest to understand the basics of the sport, and keep a close eye on the action throughout.
Something of a pre-race tradition in Formula One, the drivers were paraded round the track in vintage cars before the start of the first Indian Grand Prix. For the second Indian GP, however, a giant flat-bed truck decked with flowers was utilized for the drivers' parade, and all the 24 competitors, draped with bandhani shawls, were seated in it.
As I stated earlier, the circuit is some 65 km from the international airport, and the expected travel time from there to the venue on the days of qualifying and the main race is estimated to be 2.5 hours.
Noida City Centre station of the Delhi Metro rail service is the closest to BIC, but it would take a further 40-45 minutes of travel by road to for you to get to your destination from there, and so this particular mode of transport isn't really an option.
For those commuting by means of their own vehicles, do keep in mind that a long drive on the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway, and then on the Yamuna Expressway awaits you, so it might be a good idea to leave for the venue on time.
Given the immensity of the circuit, the whole place is divided into four zones: North, South, East and West. With the assistance of signboards and security personnel, you should easily be able to figure your way around.
Shuttle service is available at the venue, ferrying passengers from one entry gate to another, while the parking arrangements for those possessing a parking permit are impressive.
Jaypee Sports International has tied up with WheelzIndia taxi service to carry Formula One fans from different parts of Delhi to the Buddh International Circuit. The rates are fairly high, though.
Taxi parking is separate; it is necessary to leave Yamuna Expressway at Exit-2C and then follow directional signs to reach the parking.
Tickets are of various denominations. Even the cheapest tickets to a Formula One race are expensive, and that is a bit of a let-down.
The tickets of the lowest denomination were worth approximately Rs 3000 in 2012. Now, hold your breath as I say this: the price of the costliest ones was Rs. 21000, down by 40% as compared to the year before.
Prices are a deterring factor for even genuine fans. But the whole thing is a unique experience, really.
Not everyone has an ear for the roaring engines of Formula One cars, but motorsport enthusiasts are in for a treat. Just remember to have your earplugs close at hand.
As a true sports aficionado, I've been fortunate enough to have had a fantastic experience at the BIC. From my perspective, I got a good return on my investment.
The presence of souvenir shops around the complex means that there are many goodies available for you to take home. The merchandise on offer includes caps, T-shirts and pin badges.
The F1 Village is close to the West Zone of the circuit. When there's no action on the track, this is the life of the place. Along with the Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Force India stalls here, there is Airtel stand, where long queues are seen for an opportunity to ride a make-believe F1 car and complete a lap around the Buddh on a simulator.
The "F1 Rocks" concert follows soon after Sunday's main race. Top international artists like Carlos Santana and Lady Gaga have performed here in the past, and this musical get-together attracts almost as massive a crowd as the sporting event itself.
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