Preview of the Indian Grand Prix
After three victories in a row, the advantage has swung towards Sebastian Vettel in the battle for the drivers’ crown. With just four races remaining it looks firmly down to a straight fight between the reigning champion and Fernando Alonso as Formula One moves on to the Indian Grand Prix. On paper a challenging and well thought-out circuit, last year’s race was hindered by a very dirty track surface which left it essentially unusable away from the racing line. This year, that problem will hopefully have been addressed while there is also a longer DRS zone to contend with.
So what should you look out for this weekend?
Track and Conditions
First there are the four straights with the two shortest assisted by steep drops at the start, ensuring that end of straight speeds are high. As they all lead into tight corners, in theory overtaking is possible at all four although, with the circuit surrounded by flat farmland, last year saw an extremely dusty track surface that wasn’t conducive to passing despite the wide corners encouraging different racing lines. The race features two independent DRS zones, the first on the start-finish straight and the second on the long straight between Turns 3 and 4, the latter having been extended from last year. It’ll be important to get the best run onto the straights and the gradient changes will play their part there too as some of the straights will be approached blind – the track sweeps upwards by 14 metres between Turns 1 and 3 alone.
After the power straights, the circuit becomes a series of sweeping curves, rapid changes of direction and undulating gradient which forces the teams to find a balance between the different aerodynamic requirements of the straights and twists. The circuit’s signature curve is the ‘mini-arena’ formed by Turn 10/11 – a banked, double-apex, right-hand turn which tightens towards the end before flicking back to the left in what is Turn 12. That equates to the sort of tricky complex that needs to be negotiated while braking and steering simultaneously, presenting multiple racing lines and scope for error.
The climate in the region at this time of year is hot and sunny and there is nothing to suggest that it won’t be anything different this weekend..
Aerodynamically, the Buddh International Circuit sees similar downforce levels to the two previous races in Japan and Korea. The long straights would ideally require a low-drag configuration but the technical sections favour more downforce while the exit from the slow corners benefits from better traction. Similarly, the suspension set-up prioritises medium speed cornering and traction, although some of the kerbs are best avoided as Felipe Massa found out to his cost last year.
There are several heavy braking zones but they are sufficiently spaced apart to mean the brakes should not be unduly stressed. Engine power is useful for the straights but good traction and smooth power delivery are just as important.
As last year, Pirelli bring their hard and soft tyre compounds, an allocation which saw almost uniform adoption of a two-stop strategy. Two-stops should be the way forward once again, for the front-runners at least, although an improved track surface allied with Pirelli’s modified tyres could see some pushing for just a solitary pit stop.
The Buddh International Circuit’s pit lane is relatively long although the entry is quick – when entering the pits, drivers can take the final corner faster than normal – reducing the time penalty of stopping.
With both championships wrapped up by the time Formula One arrived in India last year, there was only the race victory to battle for. However, besides a series of first lap collisions and Felipe Massa tangling with Lewis Hamilton at the mid-race point the race failed to live up to the excitement of a new venue. In the end, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel completely dominated, the German recording the first grand chelem of his career by taking pole position, the fastest lap and leading every lap of the race.
Ones To Watch
Having dominated around Suzuka and in Korea, it’s hard to look beyond Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel repeating last year’s victory. However, further down the field there is plenty to keep an eye on, particularly how Force India, Narain Karthikeyan and Monisha Kaltenborn fair in their home race.
Note on Timing
Daylight saving ends in Europe and most of Mexico over the weekend. If you’re wondering why the race hasn’t started yet, you’ve probably not adjusted your clocks accordingly on Sunday morning.
Food for Thought
Can Alonso strike back or is the momentum with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel? Will the track produce more overtaking than last year’s disappointing race?
Circuit Profile – Buddh International Circuit
2011 Indian Grand Prix – Vettel Wins Inaugural Indian Grand Prix
Photos: Pirelli Tyres, Pirelli Tyres, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Mark Thompson/Getty Images, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Paul Gilham/Getty Images