India GP, day 1: Schumi astonished at fan following
The India F1 GP is upon us and Rediff.com's Raja Sen is at the Buddh International Circuit to get a pulse of the goings on the pit lanes and the paddock.
Thursday morning was the first day the F1 drivers were seen up and around the Buddh International Circuit, going from press event to press event.
Michael Schumacher, on his way out of Formula One, was naturally the big draw of the day with the press packing the Mercedes GP event. Unlike last year, the press was barely given five minutes to ask the drivers questions before they were whisked away -- probably to avoid any mentions of Lewis Hamilton entering Mercedes and Schumacher's 'oust' from the team.
That said, Michael and teammate Nico Rosberg appeared optimistic about India as a whole. Schumacher appreciated how challenging the circuit is, with its long straights and overtaking opportunities, and singled it for praise in terms of audience support. The stadium had packed nearly 95,000 fans in last year, and "it was astonishing to find a full house with the very first race,"
Schumacher said. "It is unique to see that we immediately have so much of a fan following in India, and I hope it continues like that this year as well."
Image: Mercedes Formula One driver Michael Schumacher signs autographs for fans at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, New Delhi on Thursday
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
'I hope to do more than one lap this Sunday'
It hasn't quite; with ticket sales dropping hugely this year after the novelty of last year's first race has worn off, but the current tally of 60,000 seats is still more than most stadiums elsewhere manage to muster up.
Rosberg, who crashed out of the last few races, bemoaned his luck saying "I've travelled a lot, gotten into the car, driven one lap and then gone back home. There's been lots of packing and unpacking. I hope to do more than one lap this Sunday."
Team principal and longtime Schumacher teammate Ross Brawn spoke of this year's major challenge being all about tyre optimisation, and anticipating how tyres change over the course of a race.
"We had one win in China this year, but nothing since. In 2013, we'd like to see a few more Chinas!"Brawn and Schumacher, since their legendary empire-building run at Ferrari, were known for supremely innovative and radical strategies, ones that hit the bullseye in unexpectedly brilliant ways.
Image: Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Brawn-Schumi looking to use tyres, weather as part of strategy
Now, I asked the duo, with only a couple of races to go for the Ross-Michael partnership, will we see a final hurrah, some exquisite lunacy? Something crazy? The two looked at each other and burst out laughing, while Michael, with a massive smile on his face, motioned that Brawn tackle the question.
"Well, we're missing it too, that's for sure," Brawn grinned.
"It's frustrating to not be able to play around with fuel loads as a part of the strategy, because we could really get creative then. A lot of our strategies were based on when to time the risks. But now it's all about the tyre wear, which is harder to predict even on a race-to-race basis."
Another look at Schumacher, another shared smile. "There are other factors that we are looking to use," Brawn said, "like tyres, yes, and the weather. And we'll be on our toes for sure."
Schumacher raised his eyebrow at the last remark. "Will we?" he asked, to a roomful of laughter. "I don't have much to add there, unfortunately," he said with a theatrical shrug. Then a pause and "Except on the track."
Cue the famous Schumacher wink, keeping even unrealistic hopes fluttering alive.
Image: Mercedes GP Team Principal Ross Brawn and driver Michael Schumacher
Photographs: Getty Images
Massa plays mixologist
Meanwhile, in a much more creative press event, Shell had Ferrari pilot Felipe Massa mix up 'cocktails' to demonstrate just how much work it takes to refine engine oil for Formula One cars.
Scientists took the stage to address weightier questions like, for example, how much time it will take for current road cars to be putting in the same Shell fuel in their engines that Massa's Ferrari will use this weekend ("Five to six years") and to explain the complex nature of fuel development.
Massa -- a wonderfully sporting 31-year-old with a great, childish smile -- then took the stage as mixologist, substituting regular juices and mixes for various fuel components. Mango-orange juice, for example, had the right viscosity to represent base oil, and honey, which Massa poured a bit much of, was meant to represent the viscosity index improver. And so on, until an interesting drink was concocted and drunk on stage.
Image: Ferrari's Felipe Massa (centre) prepares a cocktail drink at a press event on Thursday
Photographs: Raja Sen
'One point can matter a lot to Alonso's championship chances at this stage'
I asked Felipe about how, in the last race at Korea, after he had just executed a swashbuckling move on Lewis Hamilton, he was asked by Ferrari to hold position behind his teammate Fernando Alonso despite being the faster car at the time. Wouldn't he be better suited, I argued, to have passed Fernando, overtook Webber, and slow him down for Alonso to also pass before falling back behind his teammate, currently fighting for the World Championship?
"Well, I think, maybe," agreed Massa.
"Maybe it was possible to fight with Webber, but I don't think that was kind of a given. And even Fernando, as well. And we all know how much one point can matter to his championship chances at this stage."Fair enough, Felipe. No wonder you are driving that Ferrari in 2013 as well.
Image: Ferrari's Felipe Massa prepares cocktail at a press meet on Thursday
Photographs: Raja Sen