RENCKEN: Two rivals, four races
NEW DELHI, India - This weekend’s 2012 Indian Formula 1 GP at the Buddh circuit in Noida outside New Delhi will be Roun d 16 of the 20-race 2012 championship yet the season is but 80% done. Put differently, a decade ago the entire F1 championship stretched to 16 races; now four remain despite it being late October.
Buddh, part of a huge sports and residential complex 60km south of Delhi, hosted its first GP in 2011 and its challenging layout found immediate favour with drivers. The standard of construction left a lot to be desired, though, and F1 personnel are hoping the facilities will be a vast improvement the second time around.
That means, for example, no dead rats in the kitchens and functional electrical power…
MORE OVERTAKING PLANNED
One of the 5.125km circuit’s key features is an undulating back straight along which the cars are flat out for 15 seconds. The layout has 16 turns (7L/9R) and includes a variety of chicanes; the 180-degree double-apex Turn 10/11 is taken at 210km/h with drivers pulling almost 4g for eight seconds through banked double right-hander.
Nine of the 10 curves from five to 14 are taken at between 200 and 250km/h and full throttle is used for 64% of each lap, with the longest foot-flat section lasting 14 seconds. Drivers will make almost 4000 gearshifts during the 60 laps.
More than four million cubic tons of earth was moved during the circuit’s construction, with the bulk being diverted to create elevation changes of up to 15m between turns 1 and 3. In addition, most corner entrances are blind, requiring pin-point accuracy from drivers, while the pits lane runs to more than 600m, making it one of the season’s longest, in turn complicating pit-stop strategies.
To further complicate matters, the distance from start line to first corner is, at 230m, the shortest of all permanent circuits on the trail; only the Monaco and Valencia street circuis are shorter.
The circuit has seen little regular use since last year’s inaugural race, though its surface will have cured by now. It was laid at the last moment due to construction delays. Tyre supplier Pirelli expects a lot of track evolution during race weekend so its Soft (Yellow sidewalls) and Hard (Silver) compounds have been specified for what it expects will be a two-stop (around laps 20 and 45) event.
There wasn't much overtaking in 2011 so the FIA has confirmed two DRS zones, one on the main straight and another between turns three and four.
Red Bull’s reigning double World champion, Sebastian Vettel, thoroughly enjoys the circuit: “I loved the track layout in 2011 and not just because I won. With an average speed of 235km/h, the course is the second-quickest of the year after Monza.
“There’s a lot of elevation change, which adds to the fun... it’s like a roller coaster! It really has emerged as one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar for drivers."
Indeed, many drivers equate its mix of high-speed curves and slow sections to those of Spa-prancorchamps – praise does not come much higher.
PRESURE ON ALONSO
After a hat-trick of wins and four from the season so far, Vettel is leading the championship with 215 points to the 209 of long-time log-leader Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), who was a model of consistency until the Japanese race a month earlier. With only six points between them the fight could hardly be closer; they are the only two drivers left with a realistic chance of taking what would be either’s third title. Whoever takes it stands will become the formula's youngest champion yet.
However, the pressure is on Alonso. He has one last chance of beating Ayrton Senna’s record, set in 1991, while Vettel has five years to go. That said, back in 2005/6 - when Alonso won his titles - it seemed a roaring certainty that the Spaniard would demolish Senna’s record.
Vettel is also eying the three-in-a-row record to put him on par with Juan-Manuel Fangio and (the soon-to-retire) Michael Schumacher – at almost a decade younger than the latter, and 20 years down on the former!
However, they are not the only ones in with a shout: in a season which has wins from seven winners, he who selects the best tyre strategy stands the best chance of winning.
In with a chance are Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus), not only a newcomer to the circuit after sitting out two seasons but third in the championship on 167 points despite not winning a race since making his F1 comeback, and Lewis Hamilton (153), who is desperate for one last race win with McLaren before he puts Schumacher out to grass at Mercedes.
Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber (152) and McLaren’s Jenson Button (131) also have a shout after podiums in Korea and Japan respectively; Romain Grosjean (Lotus) Sergio Perez (Sauber) cannot be overlooked – if they manage to curb their wild ways.
The race is the home event for Force India’s German/Scottish pairing Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta. Their team boss is local billionaire Vijay Mallya so they'll be on their best behaviour. Mercedes us under enormous pressure to perform via Nico Rosberg and Schumacher.
The October 27 qualifying will start at 10.30am SA time with the race 60-lap race at 11.30am SA time on October 28.