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Bob Constanduros writes:
Help me with my dilemma: sit in the front with a seat belt and be the first to experience the impact, or sit in the back without one but that much further from the accident? That was the question as we sped to the circuit this morning in our rather small TATA . It was made more important with every kilometre: squeezing between other vehicles, pedestrians - or even cyclists - wandering on the highway and then someone coming the opposite direction in our fast lane - but he did have his headlights on so that was alright then.
(If that had happened in the UK, we would have freaked. Because it was here in India, it seemed to be acceptable. I think the reason that he was in our carriageway at all was probably because he'd missed his turning and no one had been wise enough to make a gap in this brand new motorway for people to make U-turns…)
The day started badly: there was no sign of our driver at the appointed hour, but then there were several others also waiting for their drivers. Our man eventually turned up 20 minutes late, which actually isn't too bad. He had three fingers on one hand in bandages. What happened, we asked? Fight, he replied. We said 'don't fight, it makes you 20 minutes late.'
Maybe that's what put him in a bad mood and made him drive as if he wanted to be the third Formula One driver in India. We sped on, easing other cars, vans and mini-buses out of the fast lane or simply undertaking them, the accepted method. Eventually we were dumped and joined the queue for the media shuttle.
Now these are little mini-buses and their task is to shuttle the contents of big mini-buses, so there aren't enough of them and queues build up. But this is Indian logic. We were in good time, so I walked. Eventually the first practice session got under way and the first Indian problem reared its head: stray dogs. One appeared in the first support race session, and another - or the same - in the first F1 session causing red flags on each occasion.
My commentary box is not the easiest to get to, but then my position in Australia isn't ideal either. Here, I have to go out of the paddock, round a building, downstairs into a tunnel, under the circuit and then wait for one rather slow lift, which initially had no lighting inside it. This takes me to the fourth floor where the only room is our commentary box: lots of screens provided by the Austrian engineers but poor sound proofing. And how I am going to get back to the paddock in time for press conferences and the podium I don't know.
Announcing the opening Formula One session was dramatic, and apparently I got a round of applause from the reasonable crowd around the circuit. It is an amazing moment and one I relish but here it is so important for such a huge country that it is doubly so. Seeing the cars out there for the first time in an unfortunate smog was amazing too. Apparently spectating around the circuit is very dramatic and there's a great atmosphere, and although there were excursions on what was obviously a dirty surface, they weren't nearly as bad as we feared.
The drivers seemed to enjoy it too, with lots of laps completed although I can't remember when we last had three cars stopped on circuit during a session. Several teams have already used all their engines, but there is obviously mileage left in some of those that have been used, so I don't think it's a drama yet. But it is getting towards the sharp end of the season and that is obviously a factor that could come into play.
All in all though, a good day. However one point has to be made: how does a brand new circuit look as if it's been around for years? There are broken paving stones, potholes, there's stacks of rubbish here and there, it can look quite tatty in many ways. But then that's India, we keep being told, and that's all there is too it. Just keep your eyes on the track which has received good comments even if it is still very slippery. That's where the focus lies and as long as we keep that focus, probably everything will be OK.
So now it's off to find a seat belt. Hopefully I will be here tomorrow to tell the tale…
Check out our India Friday gallery, here.
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