Four races to go and the next pit-stop for the F1 bandwagon is India. This weekend the F1 fraternity gathers in Greater Noida to celebrate what is arguably its favourite amongst the new crop of assorted lands it has handpicked for its shift eastwards. If we were to pick one place that could usurp Singapore in grandeur and festivity, it would have to be the Indian Grand Prix. Unlike last year, festivity is not all that the organisers need to bank upon – the current state of the season is a prospect attractive enough to lure the masses. And come on, it’s India – we are a ‘highly populous’ market for events such as these and that’s what makes us bigger than Singapore. Let’s get down to business now.
The battleground for this weekend is the Buddh International Circuit. Located in Gautam Buddh Nagar in Greater Noida, it is a part of the Jaypee Green Sports City owned by the Jaypee Group. In many ways it’s a typical Tilke creation with metres upon metres of run-offs around the corners – and that too manicured enough for drivers to escape unscathed in terms of traction or track position.
Agreed that safety is at premium and large run-off on certain corners is acceptable on that account, but the keyword here is ‘certain’- what’s unacceptable is the overkill because it’s a matter of excitement in the sport and giving people their money’s worth. Anyway, Tilke bashing apart, the Buddh Circuit is touted as a challenging layout with a good mix of slow and flowing corners as well as appreciable elevation changes. Though last year’s race was processional and drab, it received a warm reception from the drivers for the high-speed layout accentuated by the innate flow that came from the natural terrain – a feature it shares with the Belgian circuit Spa. The elevation changes are in the region of 8% downhill and about 10% uphill which makes it tricky for the drivers and is tough on the tyres. It boasts of the longest straight in the calendar with cars running full throttle for 14 seconds on the 1.06 km long stretch. We’ll have more on track layout (and facts and figures for the circuit) in the review piece.
In the run up to the qualifying, Seb Vettel looked ominous during the early weekend sweeping all the practice sessions. Webber remained close all along and only McLaren showed signs of taking the challenge to the Redbulls over the remainder of the weekend. Going into the qualifying Redbull would look to seal the first row while McLaren and Ferrari would look to ruin their honeymoon. The tyres on offer this weekend are option compound soft tyres and hard prime compounds. The less conservative tyre-gap might add a little flavor of its own but the range does give the teams a good blend of speed and durability.
Q1: As the pitlane was opened for business, the two Force India cars made their way onto the track amidst huge cheers from the home crowd. We saw some nervous moments from a lot of the drivers as they got crossed up exiting turns 1 and 9 as well as turn 10 heading into the long corner. A major scare came for Massa who spun out on the downhill approach to the last corner after he lost the car on turn 15 and for a moment it looked that the momentum would take the car into the grass. Towards the fag end of the session, Kovalainen stranded his caterham on the gravel as he spun out exiting turn 11. There weren’t any surprises at the end of the session in terms of elimination while Maldonado finished first followed by Rosberg and Vettel.
Not making it into Q2: 18. J. Eric-Vergne (Torro Rosso), 19. V. Petrov (Caterham), 20. H. Kovalainen (Caterham), 21. T. Glock (Marussia), 22. P. de la Rosa (Hispania), 23. N. Karthikeyan (Hispania), 24. C. Pic (Marussia)
Q2: The session was delayed a bit while the beached Caterham was towed away. The field opted for the soft option compounds as they headed out. Grosjean looked uncomfortable throughout and even had an incident running onto the grass as he carried a bit too much momentum into turn 9. He made the same mistake later and finished P11 eventually. Both the Force India drivers failed to make the cut much to the disappointment of the local supporters. Schumacher and Kobayashi too were left out in the relegation with the former left perplexed with the tough qualifying. Vettel led this session ahead of Button and Webber.
Not taking further part: 11. R. Grosjean (Lotus), 12. N. Hulkenberg (Force India), 13. B. Senna (Williams), 14. M. Schumacher (Mercedes), 15. D. Ricciardo (Torro Rosso), 16. P. Di Resta (Force India), 17. K. Kobayashi (Sauber)
Q3: There wasn’t much drama in the final 10 minutes of the qualifying and some action which we did see came from the two Redbulls that we can all agree was inconsequential to the result for the most part. I say for the most part because Webber’s last flying lap that saw him finish P2 was compromised when he locked up his front-right tyre under-braking for turn 3 and that meant Vettel was sitting pretty at P1 going into the race. Hamilton and Button showed good pace though they failed to usurp the Redbulls. It should be an interesting opening lap given we have two Redbulls, two McLarens and two Ferrari up ahead of the field.
Rounding up the top 10: 1. S. Vettel (Redbull), 2. M. Webber (Redbull), 3. L. Hamilton (McLaren), 4. J. Button (McLaren), 5. F. Alonso (Ferrari), 6. F. Massa (Ferrari), 7. K. Raikkonen (Lotus), 8. S. Perez (Sauber), 9. P. Maldonado (Williams), 10. N. Rosberg (Mercedes)
Heading into the race
As has been the case since Singapore, Redbull remains the car to be beaten. Newey has been their man on the development side and Vettel and Webber have taken care of the rest. McLaren have come close- not so much at the end of Korea but they’ve shown that they do have the pace this weekend to challenge the clean sweep that the Red Bull duo has made at the front. After Korea, McLaren for the remainder of the season, are really the potential interlopers in the Red Bull-Ferrari duel or to be specific the Vettel-Alonso vendetta. Though the Woking team is in all likeliness out of the battle this year, they will make things interesting for the fans on one hand and much more complex for the real contenders on the other.
The work is cut out for Alonso- and it’s hearty to see he isn’t letting it go, not just yet. True he’s clearly working with a weaker car but lately (after breaking the faulty wind tunnel mystery) Scuderia have sounded much more confident and we all know that the Ferraris can be much closer in the race trim, a fact that was reiterated by their performance in Korea. With updates like the new front wing and a new aerodynamic profile on the brake ducts finally in place, they might look to gain the upper hand in the development battle for once.
As for the viewers, it will be an engaging experience this year on two accounts- first, the season is not a stalemate unlike 2011 and second, the race pace will be exhilarating. That’s all for this segment, we’ll meet you on the other side of the race. Have fun and keep checking this space.
Published with permission from The Rational Pie.