Vettel's in control at New Delhi, but driver's are at biting point with mosquitoes
22:01 GMT, 26 October 2012
Despite the sound of it, Chikungunya is not a Sri Lankan opening batsman. It is a form of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus that makes you wake one morning with aching joints and does not leave you for 18 months.
It can be fatal to children and the elderly. Yash Raj Chopra, one of Bollywood's great directors, died of dengue on Sunday, aged 80.
Two years ago during the Commonwealth Games – those of falling masonry and organisational chaos that finally rescued some credit with the warm welcome of our Indian hosts – dengue was the most worrying health issue until the chief medical officer was taken ill with typhoid.
Drive time: Vettel with compatriot Schumacher and (below) Webber joins Hamilton and Button at the track
I merely contracted what was diagnosed back home as the aforementioned Chikungunya. As on that last visit, the monsoon season has just ended and the mosquitoes are at their most harmful ahead of Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, the two British McLaren drivers, are right in the buzzing centre of the danger. They, along with the whole McLaren entourage, are staying at the Hilton, who, awkwardly given the situation, sponsor the team. The hotel staff have been wielding racket-shaped zappers in the lobby to combat the problem.
Indian Grand Prix
Follow Sportsmail's coverage of the race from 8am on Sunday right here
Button has been squashing mosquitoes with his hands. His manager Richard Goddard, sleeves rolled down, trousers and socks covering his legs, top button occasionally closed, was bitten on the ear.
Thankfully, not all mosquitoes carry the virus. The dengue carriers are said to strike only at dawn and dusk and to bite only between wrist and elbow, ankle and knee.
Whatever, there have been 720 dengue cases in India this year. And next to the Hilton, on the outskirts of central Delhi, is a perfect breeding swamp of clear water. Now the fearful authorities are frantically fogging – the misty process of spraying insecticide into the air.
Those hotel’s efforts have escalated since Goddard voiced his concerns.
'The Hilton is really nice and the
people there are friendly and helpful,’ he said. ‘But perhaps with the
hotel being new, there has not been enough allowance made for the amount
of mosquitoes in the area.'
Final countdown: The teams are making last plans before the 17th race of the season on Sunday
McLaren stood by Hilton, as they had to, with spokesman Matt Bishop saying the hotel was 'excellent, luxurious, comfortable', adding: 'Mosquitoes are a hazard of life all over India that Indians learn to live with – just as Scottish Highlanders cope uncomplainingly with midges, for example.'
There is an incubation period of a few days so whether any McLaren team member has been affected by dengue is not yet known.
The government are credited with having reduced the scale of the disease over the years but, in languid India, progress is uniformly slow.
Yet, the circuit — an hour's heart-in-your-mouth drive from the imperial Delhi that Lutyens built — appears high-class. The rough edges of last year’s inaugural race have been smoothed out.
The sporting report is brief and predictable. Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull topped the timesheets in both yesterday’s practice sessions. His car is supreme. He has won the previous three rounds.
He leads the World Championship standings by six points over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso going into the fourth-last race of the season. An unforeseen twist or two notwithstanding, there seems no way to stop him.
Undeniably, the racing this season has been thrilling and Vettel has had to fight his way to the top. Many devoted Formula One fans will understandably not countenance any criticism of the spectacle. But a third consecutive title for a German driver does little to stir the hearts of casual British observers.
Soak it up: New Delhi offers a unique experience to the teams and fans travelling to the race
Grand Prix racing is ever more dominated by talk of tyres now than ever. Fascinating to some; an unfathomable imponderable to many.
Off the track, FIA president Jean Todt is doing nothing to keep the sport in the headlines. Consensual pragmatism has veered into plain boring.
A little more mischief from the little Frenchman would be welcome, because, like it or not, Formula One thrives on controversy.
Mr Todt's old team, Ferrari, did their own bit of storm-making by placing an Italian flag on the car in support of two of the country's marines who face trial in India for killing two fishermen, believing them to be pirates.
Their act contravenes the FIA#s rules banning political statements, even if Ferrari claimed they were not being political. Yes, and their cars are't red… The Indian External Affairs Ministry denounced Ferrari as 'unsporting'.
But as Formula One left through the mosquito-filled air of last evening, Mr Todt was silent, keeping up his proud presidential record of neglecting to demonstrate leadership on any topical issue.