India can be one of the great F1 venues

NEW DELHI Mon Oct 31, 2011 4:38am EDT

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives during the first Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi October 30, 2011.  REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives during the first Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi October 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Altaf Hussain

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Formula One and India have the makings of a long and happy relationship after an inaugural grand prix that exceeded expectations.

Some of the facilities were far from finished, traffic snarls made access difficult for many on race day and there were constant reminders away from the circuit of the glaring social inequalities in the world's second most populous nation.

And yet the reaction from the Formula One community and local officials alike was overwhelmingly positive, a feeling that India was sure to become a favorite fixture once the teething problems were resolved.

The drivers loved the Buddh International Circuit, with its flowing terrain and long straights, and the fans made their passion evident.

"There's pretty good advertising for this place and I think the word is going to get out," said McLaren's Jenson Button, second in Sunday's race behind Red Bull's double world champion Sebastian Vettel.

"Even though it was the first race it was a pretty good crowd here. And the Indian people seem to love motor racing," he added.

"I think it will turn out to be one of the great events on the Formula One calendar."

Organizers said 95,000 attended the race, on the outskirts of New Delhi, and Monday's newspapers delighted in declaring India the winner.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who had expressed some concern before arriving in the country about whether the circuit would be ready, was impressed.

"F1 is as popular in India as cricket in France but things will improve drastically in the years to come," declared the 81-year-old, who normally leaves once the race has started but this time stayed on to watch the action.

"I'm very, very happy with it, and everybody else is as well. We've nothing to complain about," he told reporters afterwards.

"There are bits and pieces they can do, but this is a prototype, so I'm sure they'll get down and have a good look at everything."

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McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh highlighted the difference between Delhi and some other races on the calendar, such as Turkey's Istanbul, where visitors to the city would not be aware there was a grand prix on.

"I think the response from the people here in India has been great. I believe this will be a successful event," he told reporters.

"You sense it in Delhi, you sense it in the people and there is a sporting passion here...I think they've embraced it (the race) and we've got to work with them and I'm sure we can build it up."

The track itself was one of the biggest positives, with drivers hailing it as a fantastic layout unlike some of Hermann Tilke's other creations.

"It was fantastic," said Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. "Okay, it was a very narrow line of normal grip and outside that line there was a lot of dust and low grip but this is normal for new circuits and I think with the years that will improve."

Button agreed the dust was a challenge but the positives outweighed the negatives.

"The circuit itself is a great circuit to drive, it's a fun circuit, it's a real challenge," he said.

"A massive challenge. And it's one of the more physical circuits as well because there aren't really that many for us any more. So it's great. The only thing is the dust but I don't really know what you can do about that in India."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Patrick Johnston; For Reuters sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport)

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