New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

Vettel's Buddh light cruise

2011-11-01 09:17


New Delhi - Sebastian Vettel continued his recording-setting form in India, comfortably winning the sub-continent’s inaugural Grand Prix from pole position and setting the fastest lap for good measure.

To underscore his dominance Vettel recorded the fastest race lap of the new circuit on Pirelli’s hard (i.e. slower) compound. Yes, he was on low fuel, but so were the rest of the field at that stage, with the Force India' Paul di Resta and Sauber's Sergio Perez  circulating on new "softs".

Pre-race scaremongering over massive tyre degradation failed to materialise, but teams, who conducted race simulations based on data provided by the circuit owners, cannot be blamed. Construction was delayed at the massive facility situated 50kms south-east of New Delhi that teams were unable to accurately correlate the information despite physical visits.


In fact, a measure of just how far teams were with their predictions can be gleaned from Vitaly Petrov’s provisional strategy: facing a five-place grid penalty earned in Korea, the Russian planned to sit out qualifying entirely on the basis that he would be left seriously disadvantaged regardless of his actual qualifying performance.

Due to predicted tyre degradation the Renault driver figured he would be better served by saving two sets of tyres for the race; however, once the virtually non-existent levels of degradation became apparent he switched to a more conventional strategy.

Given that Vettel sat on pole (his 13th of the year), is currently the fastest driver around and Red Bull’s RB7 is considered the class of the field, was it surprising the pole starter was still ahead after 60 laps of a Tilke-designed circuit? Add in benign tyre wear on the day, zero scope for aggressive strategies by his challengers, and bullet-proof reliability despite the 30C heat and dust on the day, and his 11th win (in 17 2011 races to date) was a foregone conclusion.

Red Bull Sebastian Vettel

EASY VICTORY:With the best car in F1 and phenomenal form all season round, did anyone expect anything less than a victory for Sebastian Vettel?

In fact, Jenson Button hardly got a look in on his way to second, his McLaren eventually finishing seven seconds adrift of the Red Bull after adopting the same strategy. Button usually relies on his silky touch to facilitate a different approach, in India he and Vettel were never separated by more than a lap, namely a SUStart/SU19/HN46 strategy for the winner, with the Brit adopting SUStart/SU18/HN45*.

Button has consolidated second place in the drivers' championship with two rounds (of 19) remaining.
To end the best of the rest championship Button needed to jump Rd Bull's Mark Webber and Ferrari's Fernando Alonsob, then thwart the determined efforts of the former in a superior car. Mission accomplished, Button just cruised ever onwards in an unfluttered manner, illustrating perfectly why he has so easily assumed the lead role at what was until recently still considered Lewis Hamilton’s own team.


After the race Alonso indicated the runners-up slot was now out of reach, a point underscored by Ferrari's aggressive programme of testing developments destined for their 2012 car on the basis that strong starts to the incoming season are preferable to strong finishes to lost years.

Of course the 2005/6 world champion pushed relentlessly all afternoon, but it was clear he was fighting with one hand behind his back, yet still managed to jump Webber for third during the final pit stop reshuffle.

Before this race there had been suggestions Red Bull would invoke team orders to assist Webber in securing second in the championship behind team mate Vettel, but, Mark being Mark made it clear he wanted second on merit, or not at all.

Given his fourth place finish, Vettel would have found gifting a clear-cut win rather difficult.

Following a rag-tag qualifying Michael Schumacher worked his way forward to fifth at the end, aided by shrewd KERS use plus a tyre conservation strategy during his middle stint. Thus he overhauled Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, who had suffered from questionable strategy calls. Still, fifth and sixth was a good result given the cars started 11th and seventh respectively.

Seventh after another day battling in F1 was Lewis Hamilton. He once again tangled with Felipe Massa – making it six contacts between the two so far in 2011, and four in the last five race weekends. If Vettel's victories are as predictable as Home Affairs chaos, so, too, are clashes between these 2008 title rivals. As in that season Hamilton came out ahead, the stewards holding Felipe to blame for the latest incident, docking him a drive-through.

Sauber Kamui Kobayashi

CRASH: Smoke bellows from Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi F1 car after a crash during the Indian Grand Prix.

As always Hamilton polarised opinions, with the Buddh Media Centre apportioning blame 50/50, but Felipe remains adamant he was (again) the innocent party. Either way, the situation between them borders on the ridiculous – if not downright dangerous - and it surely cannot be long before Race Director Charlie Whiting reads them the Riot Act.

Jaime Alguersuari took his Toro Rosso to another fine eighth, and with the team rumoured to be dropping either the Spaniard or Sebastien Buemi next year to make way for Red Bull Junior Daniel Ricciardo, Jaime’s latest drive could prove a career saver.


Ninth went to Adrian Sutil, another driver fighting for his career in the face of third driver Nico Hulkenberg putting in a strong trot for this Force India seat – as team-mate to di Resta – and ninth ahead of Sauber’s Sergio Perez cannot have done Adrian’s chances any harm, particularly as the team was performing on team boss VJ Mallya’s home turf.

As a race the inaugural Indian Grand Prix was hardly worth writing home about, but that does its promoters (Jaypee Group) a disservice, for India proved without doubt it deserves a Grand Prix, and carried the event off with aplomb – a thought echoed by virtually every driver throughout the weekend.

More remarkably, Vettel is on track to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 wins in a season – seems that where the sport’s newest megastar is unable to break records for whatever reason – and his has been a record-setting career from the start - he at least ensures he has a hold on them.

*S = Soft; U = Used; H = Hard; N = New; Numeral = lap pitted.

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