Question: What is the difference, in terms of viewing experience, between those who make it to a Formula One (F-1) circuit to watch a race and those who cannot make it there?
Motor racing, in general, is a technically advanced sport designed in such a manner that you get to watch the least amount of action when you are actually present at the racing venue.
Sitting in the grandstand, you can normally hope to get a clear and crystalised straight view of, say Sebastian Vettel’s, racing car for a full 1.75 seconds or thereabouts. So in a brilliant race running into 50 laps, you will get to watch Vettel exhibiting his undoubted skill, for a sum total of 100 seconds (large-heartedly rounded off to the nearest big number). Okay, with an Indian race driver at the wheels, you can make it as 120 seconds.
The reminder of your time at the venue will be generally spent discussing with your next-seat neighbour whether the car that blurred past by was Vettel’s or Webber’s. Usually, going by your luck at sports venues, he will be more clueless than you. Sometimes he may even answer: ‘But Nelson Piquet retired a couple of decades back itself’. You can’t blame him. In the noisy surroundings, it is a big surprise that he actually heard you say something.
But make no mistake about it, Formula One racing is the most macho of sports, for it has, at its core, the thing that will forever hold attraction for men across ages: Leggy girls in outfits that men generally don’t like their wife or daughter wearing.
The ‘groupies’, as the term goes, to my mind, have sustained this sport more than the exploits of Niki Lauda or Alberto Ascari have. (Also, a grandstand is so named for the uninhibited view it provides of the groupies in the paddock).
I, as a journalist, have been to several motor races here in Chennai and Coimbatore, the two cities that house the top two racing tracks in India, a qualification that the two cities have won for themselves by the dint of the automobile fact that there are no other racing tracks anywhere else in India.
To give you a clearer picture of how we professional journalists cover the demanding sport of motor racing, let me give you a quick lowdown on what happens at an exciting venue on a pulsating day of racing. Mind you, this is authentic inside information and some of you may want to note it down in a bounded diary for future reference:
1) Cars go around in circles
2) Journalists drink beer
You can’t blame the race reporters. The sensible alternative to alcohol consumption is slipping into sleep straightaway.
NO, I am not exaggerating. Okay, I will now further break down in graphic detail a morning at the racing paddocks.
The cars line up in all their motorised magnificence, their metallic body aglint in polished paint, which, of course, you cannot notice because a race car by definition sports more number of ads than Raj TV airs on the Deepavali day.
As the cars are arrayed at the starting grid, you can already feel the unmistakable tension, doubtless caused by the incipient headache that is inevitable when you are subjected to the never-ending drone of loud vehicles.
Here I am compelled to point to the one major technical difference between everyday cars and race cars: Race cars are those fiendish vehicles expertly tuned to blitz at high speeds? No, they are fiendish vehicles expertly tuned just to give off way too much sound to convey the idea that they are race cars.
Also, you must know that the internationally-accepted race-track structure is the one designed to ensure that whatever little action that is possible on a track happens far away from where people can actually watch.
Accidents and crashes, the sole source of small excitement on a racetrack, by a rule, occur at the chicanes, defined in layman’s term as those corners that are never visible to the paying public.
Journalists, as is mostly the case, are not paying people. So they don’t even attempt to watch anything. They hit the accelerator on alcohol consumption straightaway at the racetrack.
All things considered, a F-1 race is no different from having a 10,000-wallah go off: There is way too much noise, way too much smoke and a general notion of excitement in the air.
But the 10,000-wallah-show carries with it the possibility that you can never hope with Schumacher or Alonso: Of actually shutting up the neighbour’s pesky dog.
On the flipside, Deepavali crackers don’t come with groupies.