Formula 1: Indian Grand Prix Preview
The 2012 Formula One World Championship moves into its final stages this weekend with the Indian Grand Prix, the 17th round of what will be the longest season (20 races) in the sport's history.
The race will be held at the Buddh International Circuit and will be only the second time F1 has visited the world's second most populous country.
Last year's race in India was arguably one of the dullest of the season, with memorable moments few and far between. But this year has, on the whole, been several steps of excitement up from last, so let's hope we have an action-packed weekend ahead of us.
As It Stands
With three victories in the last three races, Sebastian Vettel has overtaken Fernando Alonso to lead the championship for the first time since May. He has a lead of six points over the Ferrari man, with Kimi Raikkonen a distant third.
Mathematically, anyone down to Jenson Button in sixth could become the champion, but realistically, it's now a two-horse race.
The Red Bull looked dominant in Japan and Korea, and unless something changes, it appears Vettel will walk to the title.
But Alonso is one of the few men on the grid who can overcome a car disadvantage, so hope remains for the fans wanting the fight to go all the way to the final race in Brazil.
The current Top 10 are:
|01||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||215|
|05||Mark Webber||Red Bull||152|
Red Bull are 77 points clear of Ferrari, who are, in turn, six points ahead of the fading McLaren. The Austrian team now look almost certain to retain the title.
The current constructors standings are:
Marussia, Caterham and HRT remain pointless.
Buddh International Circuit
The Buddh International Circuit is one of my favourite Tilke tracks.
It's fast and wide, and it has some very nice elevation changes that almost look natural. There are several corners that (for now, at least) have no identical twins elsewhere in the world, and the main straight is one of the most attractive pieces of linear tarmac on the calendar.
On the downside, it proved extremely dirty off-line last season, and, even on the line, it wasn't great.
But race tracks are like cheese, and an extra year for the surface to mature, coupled with an abundance of anti-dust measures (including 100,000 new trees), mean the circuit should offer up more grip this time around.
A lap begins with a decent-sized run (400 metres) down to the near-90-degree right-hander of Turn 1, the first overtaking spot of the lap. The entry is very wide, but there's only one best line through here—if you're not on it on the first lap, you'll probably lose a position or two.
The track then dips downhill slightly, before rising sharply through the quite beautiful flat-out left-hander of Turn 2, which ends with the braking zone for the hairpin right of Turn 3.
This is an unusual corner perched on the crest of a rise, with a extremely wide entry allowing a number of different lines of approach. This turn is beautiful, blind and looks exceptionally awkward to get around.
Overtaking isn't really possible here under normal circumstances, but on the first lap, someone could take a chance up the inside.
A good exit out of Turn 3 is crucial because next up is the very (very, very, very) long back straight. As they're driving along this, the drivers can enjoy the pleasant trip down into a shallow valley while they change the radio station and have a little rest.
It really is that long.
The track then rises out of the valley. The straight provides the best overtaking opportunity on the circuit, and a move will usually be completed before the braking zone for Turn 4, a tight right-hander with a ridiculously wide entry.
It was designed this way to allow more lines into the corner for overtaking, and you could probably fit ten cars wheel-to-wheel across it. The track tightens significantly on the apex of the corner.
A short straight follows. If a driver gets out of shape defending or attacking into Turn 4 and has his exit compromised, he'll be vulnerable to being passed here.
Turn 5, a fast left, marks the start of the infield section.
It's followed immediately by a quick left-right chicane comprising Turns 6 and 7.
And there's barely time to catch your breath before the next pair of corners, the fast right-left combo of Turns 8 and 9.
Felipe Massa was caught out twice on the punishing kerbs here last season, crashing out in both qualifying and the race after hitting them too hard and suffering suspension damage.
The Times of India reports that Turn 8 has been named "Massa Kerb," after the Ferrari driver—I think they're joking.
On a more serious note, the kerbs have been lengthened from five to 15 metres this year, to deter corner-cutting even more.
A barely-there uphill straight follows, before the banked, double-apex right-hander of Turns 10 and 11. This is a single, very long (and very beautiful) corner that puts a lot of strain on the tyres and on the drivers' necks.
A tiny left-hand kink on the exit of 11 is Turn 12, and the track dips downhill again towards the left-right combination of Turns 13 and 14.
Like most of the infield, these two corners are taken very quickly and require extreme precision—a small error can easily cost a lot of time.
The track climbs quite steeply now, and Turn 15 is a blind medium-speed right-hander perched on the crest of a small hill. As soon as the cars clip the apex, they head back downhill along a short straight. In-car footage of this corner makes me think of a roller coaster.
The end of the lap is approaching, and only Turn 16 remains. This is a relatively low-speed left-hander, extremely wide on the entry (similar to Turns 3 and 4) but tighter on the exit.
The start-finish line is only a short distance down the straight.
The pit lane entry is on the outside of Turn 16, and the exit is before Turn 1. The pit lane itself is very long at 600 metres, meaning the total time to make a stop is higher than usual here.
Tyres and DRS
The Buddh International Circuit is a tricky one from a tyre point of view.
On one hand, it's a very dusty, dirty surface that doesn't really offer up a lot of grip. Though it will evolve as the weekend progresses, it will remain below average.
This means a softer tyre providing greater grip would be favoured.
But on the other hand, it features many fast corners that put immense energy through the tyres. For example, in the double-apex Turn 10 (and 11), Pirelli say the tyres will be under full lateral load for six seconds.
That sort of punishment would call for a more durable tyre.
Pirelli have decided upon a combination of the yellow-marked soft and silver-marked hard compounds. This is the same combination used last year, though the 2012 compounds are softer than their equivalents from 2011.
With a "step" between the tyres (medium is skipped), the performance gap over a single lap is likely to be in excess of a second in favour of the soft. So, it's possible a "big name" will receive a nasty surprise at the end of Q1.
One thing we've learned this season is that, even with DRS, a huge straight with slow corners at either end does not necessarily mean good overtaking opportunities.
So, despite having a straight on which one could land a Learjet if one were so inclined, the Indian Grand Prix will have two DRS zones (as it did in 2011).
The first will be on the pit straight. The detection point for this zone will be at the exit of Turn 15, with the activation point immediately after Turn 16.
The second will have a detection point just before Turn 3, with the activation point a little before halfway down the long back straight. This zone will be 80 metres longer than it was last year.
The track lies close to Indian capital New Delhi, which has a humid subtropical climate. Hardly any rain falls outside the monsoon season, and we're outside of that now.
As always, the Indian Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
The times are as follows.
All are given in Indian Standard Time. Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!
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