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2013 Indian GP: Title race over?

2013-10-24 08:23

THE LAST RACE? The 2013 Indian GP could be the last time the country hosts a grand prix race on Sunday at the Buddh International Circuit. Image: Fia.com


DIETER RENCKEN explains why India could be hosting its last Formula 1 Grand Prix and why the 2013 season could be over if Sebastian Vettel claims his fourth title on Sunday.

NOIDA, India - October 27 sees Formula 1 contest the Indian Grand Prix for the third – and likely the last – time. The race is certainly off 2014’s calendar, and, while the promoters are fighting for a 2015 return, chances seem slim, as the enormously populous country has simply not embraced F1. Instead it has thrown piles of bureaucratic obstacles at the sport.

For example, it is the only event on the F1 calendar that fiscally taxes teams and drivers, while the visa regime is by far the most convoluted of all grands prix, whether for F1 personnel or the media. In short the country does not get F1, and, crucially, F1 does not get India despite having a team named Force India...

However the 16th (of 19) round in the 2013 championship is highly significant, for it is likely to see Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) crowned for the fourth consecutive season after a run of successes which make the 2000-2004 Michael Schumacher/Ferrari hegemony seem thrilling.
That is not, though, to criticise RBR: the team has simply done the best job, having the biggest racing budget (around R2.5bn/year); undoubtedly the fastest car in RB9; indisputably the brightest technical team headed by design genius Adrian Newey, who designed title winners for three teams; the most ferocious development pace; arguably the best driver for the current car/tyre situation; and unrivalled political nous.
In the process they have left the rest of the grid absolutely reeling: in the five races scheduled since F1’s August northern summer break the German has taken a full-house of victories to bring his season-to-date tally to nine wins, mainly from pole position and with fastest lap as a matter of course.
Thus Vettel has 297 points to the 207 of his only remaining rival, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, and with 100 points to play for over the remaining four rounds, Alonso needs to win the lot with Vettel scoring less than a single fifth place through to Brazil.

Basically it seems all over for 2013 bar the shouting – particularly as Vettel dominated the first two grands prix here, winning from pole and leading every single one of the 120 laps raced featured at the Buddh International Circuit to date...


Tellingly they are the only two drivers to have featured on both podiums, with Alonso placing third in the inaugural race and second in 2012 to keep his (ultimately futile) title hopes alive.
In addition to their showdown, there should be plenty of scrapping over bit-placings, with Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus) on 177 points. Although out of the title running the Finn is still eager to put one over his 2014 Ferrari team mate Alonso, while the mercurial Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (161) sets tracks alight wherever he ventures.

Red Bull second-stringer Mark Webber (148) leaves F1 at the 2013 season's end in favour of sports car racing with Porsche, and plans to do so on a high by annexing second in the championship. Then, Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus has impressed greatly of late, as has Nico Hulkenberg, the German spearheading resurgent Sauber’s effort. 
The 5.1km circuit, situated within a half-finished residential development on smoggy flat land 50km north of Delhi, is a mix of the truly spectacular and downright shocking. In terms of outright challenge the layout itself ranks amongst the best, with virtually every one of its 16 (9R/7L) corners being unique.

Turns 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14 all generate over 3.5g in lateral forces, with three corners at below 100km/h and one in excess of 250km/h. That said, from T7-T14 no sector is taken in lower than 4th gear, with average cornering speeds of around 220km/h. Each lap has eight braking events, four of which are classed ‘heavy’, with T3 being the heaviest as drivers shed over 200km/h in under 100 metres.


During construction of the circuit and surrounding developments over 4000-million of earth were excavated and then used to create undulations, with the track rising 14m between Turns 1 and 3. The Turn 10/11 complex, a long set of corners at the end of an uphill section overlooked by a 13 000-seater grandstand (will it, though, be packed?), is banked.

The circuit has a host of decent straights upon which in excess of 315km/h is reached. Two DRS overtaking zones – virtually adjoining, with the first running down the main straight between the last and first turns; the second from the exit of T3 to T4 – will operate as per current convention. Sixty three per cent of each lap taken at full throttle, with the single longest foot-flat portion lasting 15 seconds.

Those are the upsides; on the downside, construction standards border on the disgraceful, with the wavy facade of the main grandstand and constant tripping of electrical circuits being some pointers to shoddy workmanship. It is likely the last circuit on earth drivers would choose to crash on...
Long-term weather forecasts point to clear and sunny 30C skies throughout, meaning Pirelli’s Medium (white sidewall markings) and Soft tyre (yellow) compounds – the same combination as used in Hungary under similarly hot conditions – are sure to receive a work out. Last year’s winning (and most popular strategy) was a single stop at around the halfway mark, albeit on Hard and Soft compounds.

Buddh’s pit lane (600m) is the longest in the championship, and carries a penalty of around 19 seconds without the stop time of around three seconds, meaning teams will consider tactics carefully, with the ‘greeness’ of the track (due to disuse since the 2012 round, creating unpredictable degradation), plus the fact that neither of the two races held to date featured Safety Car interruptions, further compounding their dilemmas.
While the drivers’ title is likely to be settled this weekend, Red Bull Racing (445 points) needs to wait another weekend before clinching the equally important constructors’ championship. Ferrari, on 297, and Mercedes, a further ten points adrift, could still both (theoretically) haul in the triple reigning champion team. Lotus, though, is now out of the running, but close enough to leap frog both teams into second, so on Sunday the heat is sure to be on in more ways than one.
The 60-lap race, twinned with Abu Dhabi’s round the following weekend, starts at 11.30am local time on Sunday with qualifying at 10.30am on Saturday.

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 Indian GP weekend.

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