Sports fraternity welcomes First F1 race

New Delhi: Formula One fever is fast gripping the Indian capital as countdown has begun for the first ever Indian Grand Prix and country`s sports fraternity has welcomed the grand spectacle with open arms.

From Khel Ratna awardee shooter Gagan Narang to tennis diva Sania Mirza, from football icon Bhaichung Bhutia to golf veteran Jeev Milkha Singh to hockey stars Arjun Halapaa and Tushar Khandekar, all believe that India`s image as a sporting destination will be boosted and more Narain Karthikeyans and Karun Chandhoks will come forward.

In one voice they said that it`s best thing happening to the country as far as popularity of motorsport is concerned. All of them may not be there in Greater Noida in person due to engagements in their respective sports but all are backing both home team Force India and country`s first F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan for a good result on October 30.

Narang was delighted that people will have a chance to see F1 stars. "It is a very good news that F1 is debuting in Delhi this week-end. After the Commonwealth games this is the biggest sporting extravaganza to come to India. I am truly delighted. For us Indians, it is a splendid opportunity to see the celebrated drivers LIVE in action," Narang told PTI.

"It also gives us a chance to root for two teams – Force India and Lotus. The latter of course after Gaurav Burman-of Dabur family-picked up a stake. For India it is a massive business opportunity, too," the ace shooter said.

"I follow F1 courtesy Live racing on TV. Never been to a race track but I believe it is a breathtaking experience. I would like to see a track up close sometimes. I have been a big fan of Ayorton Senna. Such an enigma he was," Narang said.

"I also like Felipe Massa. (Sebastian) Vettel is a young champ. It`ll be interesting to see what he does, whether Schumacher picks up points or not. And above all where Force India finishes." Bhutia said it`s a proud moment for the country to host such a big sporting spectacle.

"I am a big fan of F1. As an Indian it is great that F1 is coming to the country. I am excited about it. I recently met Michael Schumacher during a charity match in Munich and I have also met Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella. I want to see Narain and Force India doing well in the race," Bhutia said.

Sania, who has been invited to watch the race, was impressed with the following of F1 across the globe. "I am very excited at the prospect of watching an F1 event in our own backyard. Last year the F1 Championship registered a global television audience of over 500 million people and those figures are mind-boggling. Of course, I will be supporting the Sahara Force India team," she said. Jeev Milkha Singh, India`s one of the most successful golfers, does not follow motorsport but patted the organisers for bringing the race to India.

"It is fantastic for India. Obviously the economy is doing well, it`s getting recognition the way our country is doing. It is right time for F1 to come to India. It`s a good start and full marks to people who brought it here," Jeev told PTI from Malaysia.  India`s Davis Cup hero Rohan Bopanna, who likes F1 legend Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa, said the race should be supported for the popularity of the sport.

"It is amazing for India to host such a high calibre event such as the F1. It is indeed a boost to the country, to have various events of this scale. It does help in popularising the sport, something that we should all encourage," the doubles specialist opined.

India`s hockey players — Khandekar and Halappa — who are in Australia also gave a thumbs up to F1`s India debut. "It`s big event and good for the sports fan in country. They have seen cricket, hockey, football and lawn tennis and its a good opportunity to experience a new sport. The popularity graph will improve and youngsters may choose a different sports career," Khandekar told PTI from Busselton.

Halappa is a keen follower of F1 but is sad since he can`t make it to the track. "It is a big thing happening here. I am crazy about it and following it for the last few years. I wanted to go to Singapore GP as I was there but could not make it. "I am sure more Karthikeyans and Chandhoks will come forward after this race. I like Schumacher. He is great," he said.