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RENCKEN: India a great unknown

2011-10-27 08:29


This weekend sees the inaugural Indian F1 GP but,  following the precedent established by that country’s disastrous 2010 Commonwealth Games, the motorsport world knows nothing about the event.

Zilch. Zero.

Don’t bother turning to the FIA website for enlightenment: a map providing little other than a circuit drawing with turn numbers bears the helpful words: “All circuit information and layout is subject to change and final approval by FIA Homologation.”


So what do (we think) we know about the Indian Grand Prix? That it is (apparently) due to take place on Sunday, starting at 3pm local (11.30am SA time) – yes, India operates to unorthodox time zones), that Buddh Circuit (if it exists) is in the Delhi area near Noida, and is apparently 5.125km long – in which case it will run (if at all) to 60 laps.

India is the fifth new F1 venue in four years – the other are Singapore, Valencia, Abu Dhabi and Korea, although there is a subtle difference: where the others – save Valencia, for obvious reasons - have hardly had F1 ‘cultures’, India has done its bit, with the country delivering drivers in the form of Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, while the Force India team is 85% Indian-owned.

Finally, we also know that that at this time of the year the region enjoys 30°C skies, with long-term forecasts not predicting rain during race weekend. The new  track surface will be ‘green’ and dusty, meaning track evolution is likely to be high – possibly as high as Korea was last year, when lap times improved by over seconds between Friday’s best first session time and the pole position benchmark.

Such evolution plays havoc with tyre wear and degradation and with Pirelli having specified its soft (yellow sidewalls) as prime compound and hard (silver) as option, drivers will need to balance performance, tyre wear and track reconnaissance on Friday, which will in turn affect set-up time.

UNTRIED, UNTESTED: New track, new stands and new tar - how will India's first F1 GP circuit stand up to reality this weekend?

Thus an unpredictable race awaits.

Although no competitive running has yet taken place on  the circuit, teams have run simulations which suggest performance levels roughly similar to those in Korea the previous week, while Mercedes reckons the DRS system may be used for 62% of each lap in qualifying – a similar percentage to Spa

Use of the device is, of course, restricted during the race, and the FIA has yet not published the DRS zone, so we will see how it pans out.  

Fortunately both titles are now done and dusted, meaning Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing won’t be affected by whatever transpires, but, given this is the 17th of 19 rounds in the 2011 FIA Formula 1 World championship, its outcome is crucial to the hopes of McLaren’s Jenson Button (222 points), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari, 212), Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber (209), and Lewis Hamilton (McLaren, 196).

With 75 points still to play from India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil, one of this quartet will end 2011 second behind the double champion, with the squabble for this crumb off Vettel’s Red Bull table starting in India.

The McLaren currently seems the best car after the Red Bulls, with Ferrari playing catch-up after a dismal (by the Scuderia’s own high standards) start to the season. In theory this favours Button, who won in Japan, or Hamilton - second in Korea - but Alonso is the most relentless driver out there, and never gives up.

Then, Webber is burning at not having won a race this year while his team mate has won 10  in the same car, so expect the Australian to go all out. Add in a resurgent Michael Schumacher and the hungry Nico Rosberg at Mercedes, and the flag and podiums could go to any one of six or so drivers.

All this, though, presupposes that Vettel is in cruise-and-collect mode now he has done the business. However, the 24-year-old is the danger man for he has nothing to lose, so can afford to go all out without playing a points’ game as those behind him must.


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