The 2013 Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix will take place this Sunday at the Buddh International Circuit. Located in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, the circuit is just an hour's drive from world's second-largest city, Delhi.
This will be only the third Indian Grand Prix, but it's already under some degree of threat. Attendances in 2012 fell sharply to just 65,000, and this year ticket sales appear set to drop further.
Reports from earlier this week suggested that, despite massive price cuts, only 27,000 tickets had been sold.
Revenue just isn't meeting the expectations (or far-flung wishes) of the organisers, and the race will need government assistance if it's going to continue.
Sebastian Vettel is the only man to have won at Buddh, and he's the favourite to take victory this weekend too—along with the world championship.
He's currently 90 points ahead and has more wins. If Fernando Alonso fails to outscore him by at least 16 points, the German will win his fourth consecutive drivers' title.
Sebastian Vettel will probably win the championship this weekend—even if he doesn't finish.
Fernando Alonso has to score 16 more points than the German, and his Ferrari just isn't quick enough.
The current standings (from Formula1.com) are:
In the constructors' standings, Red Bull won't be caught. This year will mark their fourth consecutive title.
Further down the order, the battle for second is still alive—Lotus seem to be quicker than both Mercedes and Ferrari at this stage. Meanwhile, McLaren and Force India will be looking nervously over their shoulders at the suddenly competitive Sauber.
The current standings are:
|1||Red Bull Racing-Renault||445|
The Buddh International Circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke, and it's probably one of his best tracks.
It features the usual combination of hairpins, long straights and fast corner sequences, but what sets it apart are the numerous elevation changes (which are mostly man-made). These are especially noticeable at the start of the lap and around Turn 15. You can see a diagram of the elevation here.
The drivers genuinely like driving around here, and everything about the place looks great.
That is, until you start racing on it. The two Indian Grands Prix to date have been quite dismal affairs, ranked by F1Fanatic readers among the worst 20 races since the start of 2008.
It's kind of a driver's track, but only for time trials.
Unless it produces a top race this year, few fans will shed a tear if financial issues do spell the end of the event.
An onboard lap is available on the Formula1.com website.
Turns 1, 2 and 3
A lap begins on the pit straight with a quite long run down to the near-90-degree right-hander of Turn 1. This is the first (theoretical) overtaking spot of the lap, but don't expect to see much action here.
The track dips slightly at the exit, and it looks incredibly easy to run wide here—but it doesn't really matter because there's so much run-off.
After the dip, the track rises 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 top of the hill, with an extremely wide entry allowing a number of different lines. If you watch it during practice and qualifying, you'll see a lot of variety in how the drivers go through here.
Overtaking was perhaps in the architect's mind, but it isn't really possible (or advised, because of what comes next). That said, 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 and up out of a shallow valley while they change the radio station and have a little rest.
It really is that long, coming in at 1060 metres. In an interesting reversal of history, F1 circuits are now seemingly being turned into runways.
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-hand hairpin with a ridiculously wide entry.
It was designed this way to allow more lines into the corner for overtaking. Obviously someone was expecting cars to arrive here 18 abreast (or it's a turning circle for the aeroplanes).
The width reduces significantly at the apex.
A shorter straight follows, providing a secondary overtaking zone. 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.
Turns 5, 6 and 7
This is very much a circuit of two halves, and the second half starts now—the infield.
Turn 5 is a fast left, and it's followed immediately (in a sort of long, single-steering movement arc) by a tighter left (Turn 6). Turn 7 is a right-hander, forming a chicane with 6.
It looks very easy to get at least part of this sequence wrong, and the "sausage kerbs" (which are what they sound like) are substantial. Turn 5 has more than enough run-off, but the wall is quite close (by Tilke standards) to the exit of Turn 7.
Turns 8 and 9
There's barely time to catch your breath before the next pair of corners, the fifth-gear right-left combo of Turns 8 and 9.
Drivers of the better cars will give the brake only the tiniest tap through here, instead feathering the throttle right up to the exit.
Felipe Massa was caught out twice on the punishing kerbs here back in 2011, crashing out in both qualifying and the race. Numerous sources, such as PlanetF1.com, reported last year that the kerbs had been renamed "Massa Kerb," but (sadly?) the moniker was never official.
Turns 10, 11 and 12
A barely-there uphill straight follows before the banked, double-apex right-hander of Turns 10 and 11. This slightly banked corner is the circuit's big tyre and neck killer, and would be beautiful if not for the hideous run-off area.
The drivers brake at the entry and balance the car through the first part of the corner before applying the throttle through the midpoint. The second part looks tighter on the track map but it's actually a shade quicker and requires just a brief lift at the apex.
Turn 12 is a flat-out left-hand kink at the exit of Turn 11.
If you look closely, you'll see this corner is a bit like a double rainbow. There's another, smaller version of the corner, complete with kerbs, inside it.
Turns 13 and 14
The track dips downhill again towards the left-right combination of Turns 13 and 14. This is a slightly quicker (and easier), reversed version of the 8/9 combo from earlier in the lap.
The first corner is more rounded, while the second is more abrupt and very reminiscent of Turn 12 at Albert Park in Melbourne.
Drivers can afford to run a bit wide here over the kerbs on the exit. Often they'll go outside the track boundaries but probably won't be pulled up for it.
The track now climbs quite steeply towards the very tricky, medium-speed Turn 15. The drivers are heading uphill as they turn in towards the apex; midway through the corner, they're heading downhill.
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.
Taken at Suzuka. The red and yellow tyres weren't used at Suzuka. Curious.
The Buddh International Circuit is seldom used when F1 isn't in town. This means there's nothing to sweep the track clean over the course of the year, so it's always dirty and lacking in grip, especially at the start of the weekend.
Also, new surfaces tend to give up less grip and are less abrasive than older ones. Pirelli's press release for the weekend explains it:
The track surface in India is generally not very abrasive. However, having made its debut only two years ago, the asphalt is still evolving. Over time, new asphalt tends to get rougher, as the bitumen on the surface is swept away, leaving the stones that make up the asphalt exposed. This increases abrasion, which has an effect on tyre wear.
So despite this being a venue which (loading wise) works the tyres fairly hard with big stops and some quick corners, wear isn't especially high.
Pirelli are bringing the yellow-marked soft and white-marked medium compounds to the event. With only one "step" between the two, there won't be a lot of difference in lap times.
Last year it was soft and hard, which resulted in one-stoppers all round (aside from those who had other problems requiring additional stops).
This year, two is expected to be the normal strategy. With wear being low, the drivers may be able to push a little harder (and spend less time cruising around in tyre-management mode) than at an average race.
There are plenty of DRS-friendly straight lines in India, so after Suzuka's single zone it's back to two this weekend.
The detection point for the first zone will be just before Turn 3. The activation point will be a little over two-fifths of the way down the back straight, and the zone ends with braking for Turn 4.
The second zone's detection point will be just after the exit of Turn 15, with an activation point very soon after the final corner, Turn 16. The zone will run the length of the pit straight, ending with braking for Turn 1.
Don't expect a lot of action in this zone—it's more likely to be used to catch up to the car in front, giving a better chance of passing in the zone on the back straight.
Weather in the Greater Noida area is generally hot and relatively dry, with an average of only 28 inches of rainfall annually. All but seven of those inches fall during the monsoon season (June to September).
My Playstation often makes it rain here, but in the real world you'll be lucky to see a cloud all weekend. All forecasts suggest dry weather every day, with temperatures somewhere between warm and hot.
As always, the Indian Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
The session times are as follows (from Formula1.com):
All times given are Indian local time (IST). Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Sky's qualifying coverage begins at 08:30 on Saturday, with race buildup starting at 08:00 on Sunday.
BBC coverage begins at 08:30 on both Saturday and Sunday.
In the USA, NBC Sports provides live coverage of the race only starting at 05:00 Eastern on Sunday, with a full re-run at 13:00.
And in India, STAR Sports and ESPN will be showing full live coverage of the event.
Enjoy the weekend!