The championship has been over for a few months but this weekend, the party for Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel will begin. A fifth place finish is all Vettel needs to wrap up the title and that’s assuming nearest rival Fernando Alonso wins the race. If the Spaniard is second, Vettel will need just eighth place to secure the crown. If Alonso is third or lower, Vettel wins the title. The omens for the German are good: he has never been beaten in India, he has led all 120 racing laps at the Buddh International Circuit and has claimed both pole positions. This season, he has failed to secure the required fifth place just once, and that was when his gearbox failed at Silverstone. Red Bull only needs a handful of points to secure their fourth Constructors’ championship.
For the first time there will be no Indian representative on the grid courtesy of Narain Karthikeyan’s departure from the sport at the end of 2012. Indian fans will be able to cheer on Sahara Force India, but the ‘home’ team are actually based a stone’s throw away from Silverstone. This will be the last Indian Grand Prix for 18 months; the circuit will not be a part of the 2014 calendar and while it has a provisional date of April 2015, it remains to be seen whether Formula 1 will visit India again, primarily due to tax issues.
Formula 1 first discussed an Indian Grand Prix before the turn of the millennium and several plans to host races in the early part of the previous decade collapsed. Finally, in 2007 plans were announced for a circuit to be built in Greater Noida and the facility opened just a couple of weeks before the inaugural race in October 2011.
Reigning world champion Vettel has dominated at the Buddh International Circuit for the past two years, with the first race memorably only for actor Rowan Atkinson’s reaction to the umpteenth collision between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. The Brazilian was also the only driver to break his suspension on the large ‘sausage’ kerbs in qualifying and promptly repeated his error in the race. A stray dog found its way onto the circuit on Friday, suspending practice while the canine was cleared.
Last year’s race featured a spectacular opening lap battle between Fernando Alonso and the two McLarens, but the race settled down up front soon after. There were several scrappy collisions in the midfield, with a number of drivers sustaining punctures and damaged front wings as a result.
The 5.14km Hermann Tilke designed complex is the epitome of modern Formula 1 circuits. The Buddh International Circuit features two distinct sections, with the first half containing long straights and the second a mixture of medium to high speed corners. The circuit rises 14 metres between turns one and three, before the drivers embark on a one kilometre jaunt down to turn four. The circuit widens on the approach to the tight corner in order to boost overtaking opportunities. The long apex Turn 10 is a challenge both for drivers and tyres, although the significant run-off means that there’s plenty of margin should the racers overstep the limit.
There will be two DRS zones; one on the pit straight and one on the long back straight, with separate detection points.
“The layout has a great rhythm and I love the fast turns and high speeds,” says Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton.
“It’s pretty technical too, which is quite unusual for a fast circuit,” adds compatriot Jenson Button. “But the flow from one corner to the next means that positioning the car is quite critical if you don’t want to fall out of the rhythm and lose time. Track positioning is also important because several areas of the circuit are extremely wide, and narrow down from corner-entry to exit.”
Pirelli has adopted a different approach to the Indian Grand Prix by bringing the soft and medium tyres. The previous two races in India have featured the soft and hard tyres and the Italian company hopes that this will lead to a two stop strategy being adopted rather than a one stopper, as was used in 2012.
Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen will be the driver steward this weekend.
Friday 23rd October (All times GMT*)
- Practice 1: 04.30-06.00
- Practice 2: 08.30-10.00
Saturday 24th October
- Practice 3: 05.30-06.30
- Qualifying: 08.30
Sunday 13 October
- Race: 09.30
*Clocks go back by one hour in Europe early on Sunday morning