Tuesday October 30, 2012
Indian F1 fans bid goodbye to racing legend Schumacher
GREATER NOIDA (India): India bid a fond farewell to seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher on Sunday as the great who got young sports fans in the country hooked on Formula One competed in the country for the last time.
Formula One has never been popular in the cricket crazy nation but the German’s fame travelled way beyond the confines of a circuit and he became the face of the sport and a household name in India.
Many of the 62,000 spectators at the Buddh International Circuit were there to cheer on the 43-year-old Mercedes driver, and former Ferrari champion, who is retiring at the end of the season in three races’ time.
“I’m wearing this T-shirt because of being a patriot,” said one fan in a Force India team shirt and Schumacher cap.
“But I’ve been supporting Schumacher since I was 16-years-old and I know he’s not in the best of form because of his car but he’s a legend and he’ll always be one.”
Formula One has only been regularly aired on television in India since the mid-90s and a generation of young fans grew up watching Schumacher take the fight in a relatively uncompetitive Ferrari to the far more superior Williams and McLaren cars.
Stories of his drives in Hungary 1998 or Spain 1996 are the stuff of legend among fans of the sport here and his success in restoring Ferrari’s lustre, and his dominant run of five world championships from 2000 to 2004, only made him more popular.
Last year’s inaugural Indian Grand Prix, when Schumacher was a shadow of his former self, was the first chance for locals to see him race.
Even if his three-year comeback has not lived up to expectations, the loyalty of India’s small legion of Formula One fans appeared undiminished on Sunday.
“He has that brand value, no other player has that brand with him,” said Rishabh, an 18-year-old from Delhi who admits he isn’t a regular follower of the sport.
If most fans were clad in Ferrari or McLaren merchandise, affection for Schumacher was evident.
“The legend always stays the legend so there is always a soft corner for Schumi, so I guess it feels bad that he’s going to be out of racing,” said Priyadarshan, who works for McLaren sponsors SAP and was a guest of the team. — Reuters