Michael Bailey: A real Indian summer for the F1 circus

This weekend Formula One visits one of my favourite countries in the world for the first time. Sadly it is now seven years since I spent six weeks travelling around to every corner of India – a place as magical, entrancing and complex as you will find.

Even in 2004, there was serious evidence of an affluent middle class rising – especially in huge cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. And alongside that, millions living in desperate poverty.

Of the 36m people that inhabit the Indian city of Mumbai, 24m live in the slums that circle its outskirts.

With that background, the arrival of Formula One to the Sub-continent for the first time is in danger of providing the ideal juxtaposition.

A pristine circuit, no doubt with its freshly watered lawns and all the power, food and resources the Formula One world could need – alongside families sifting through rubbish to make enough money for the most basic of meals.


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Where running water is somehow still beyond the country's wide-ranging infrastructure.

But this is not a rant at Formula One picking the wrong time, place or moment. Quite the contrary – such a contrast is typical of exactly what India has become.

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And therefore, F1's arrival – funded entirely by private enterprise – is almost a symptom of the country's economic rise.

So at this point all you can hope is the investment and prestige the sport can bring filers down to where it can make a difference – sadly, in a way the Indian government has yet to master.

Focusing on the racing, the new 5.14km Herman Tilke-designed circuit has good straights with the cars expected to hit 330kph.

Well, that's the projection anyway. Of course, the biggest problem with new tracks is the fact the teams have to guess their way into them.

No amount of data and simulation from across the calendar is going to make up for the fact they don't really know what's coming – be it car set-up or tyres.

'We have opted for a deliberately conservative nomination in selecting the hard tyre alongside the soft, simply because on a brand new circuit you are never quite sure of the exact race conditions you will encounter,' said Pirelli's top F1 man, Paul Hembery.

'It's too early to talk about the number of pit stops we expect this weekend, but we anticipate a reasonably significant lap time difference between the two tyres.'

Such is F1's budding relationship with India that another business partnership has unveiled plans to build a second grand prix-standard track in Mumbai. Bold plans indeed.

But before that, F1 will need to feel its way around Buddh. And given the 2011 calendar only has trips to Abu Dhabi and Sao Paulo left, one remaining piece of unpredictability is no bad thing.

• Time is a commodity never wasted in Formula One. Be it a 'quiet' Tuesday in the factory at Hingham or those few seconds before lights out at any track around the world, F1 teams run to the clock with mid-blowing accuracy.

So while most of the major elements – and certainly silverware – are now done and dusted for the 2011 campaign, do not for one moment think everyone is taking it easy for the remaining races.

Quite the opposite. The cars may look the same, but the development work for the 2012 campaign is clearly already well under way.

After all, progress and data in 2011 is time, money and effort saved in the winter and beyond.

Of course, at Norfolk's Team Lotus the need is probably greater than some.

Preparing for their third season on the grid, the constructor is getting to the point where it needs to deliver results – and championship points.

So these final races could already make a big contribution to the challenger that rocks up for pre-season testing in the new year, let alone the curtain-raiser in Australia.

'We are carrying a number of 2012 development parts on Fridays,' chief engineer Jody Egginton told the Team Lotus podcast. 'They are background items, small things, but things that it's important to get data on now to save you some time in the winter, when you have got a lot of things to learn about the new car.

'We are a relatively new team and we are finding a our own identity. We are changing things in the background, the way we use software and the way we analyse things.

'There are a lot of things we are trying out now which we may not use in anger, but they will set us up better for next year.'

Those are the preparations for on the track. Next week should see Team Lotus' off-track issues closer to their own resolution…

• Having woken up in my hotel room somewhere on the way back from Liverpool to Norwich on Sunday morning, and just before checking how the rugby World Cup final had started, I crossed to BBC Two.

They were in the middle of their Moto GP coverage from Sepang; there was a lull due to a red flag – and a few distracted faces on camera.

With what happened to Dan Wheldon the previous weekend, a bit of worry was understandable – that's how I saw it, from those few seconds before flicking over to the goings on in New Zealand.

Yet, to find out when we did arrive back in Norwich that Marco Simoncelli had been killed in what was a truly horrific accident that morning was a horrible feeling and distressing for every fan, friend and colleague of a popular rider.

Writing about one death on the track is enough. Two in successive weeks is tragic. You cannot and will not take the danger out of motorsport – but that doesn't make such news any easier to take.

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