Indian Grand Prix Preview

Tuesday 22nd October 2013

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Indian Grand Prix Preview

Indian Grand Prix Preview

The two Championships may be a foregone conclusion, but as we head to India and the Buddh International Circuit, there is still a lot to play for. This will be India's third F1 race after an initial rapturous welcome in 2011 and a not-quite-so-enthusiastic one in 2012.

With India passing up the opportunity to have a grand prix in 2014, as it swaps to a Spring date the following year, it will hope to have a fitting send-off, especially so that it can muscle its way in to what might be a very crowded calendar in 2015.

Drivers love both the track and visiting the exuberant chaos of India, which is a complete contrast to the disciplined order of Singapore and Korea. They love the food, too - well, Nico Hulkenberg doesn't: "As regards the food, I am not that used to it and certainly don't like spicy food, so that makes it quite tricky," especially considering he used to drive for an Indian team. "I always have to ask for a very, very mild dish. Paneer tikka is actually my favourite local dish there which is delicious."

Nah, he's just saying that.

They do love the track, though. It's a Hermann Tilke circuit not unlike Korea in that it has a first sector which is dominated by long straights and low speed corners, the second sector is made up of medium to high speed corners, and there is a short, low speed final sector.

It has some challenging off-camber corners and the multi-apex sequence of Turns 10, 11 and 12 which is likened to (the much-missed) Turn 8 at the Istanbul Park Circuit in Turkey. Jenson Button's a big fan. "It's fast, flowing and challenging. It's pretty technical too, which is quite unusual for a fast circuit, 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."

Last year there were two DRS zones which included the long back straight and teams will need to be careful to get the gearing right. Because the circuit is not used a lot throughout the year, it can be quite dirty at first and will evolve quickly from Friday when they have to set their ratios. Despite the width of the track and the huge run-off areas, Jenson thinks it's still hard to make passes. "The long back straight and the braking zone into Turn 4, are probably the most straightforward places. In fact, the rest of the circuit is quite fast, with only a single racing line, so trying to get past during the rest of the lap is pretty tricky."

That racing line will be more defined this year because there will be a lot more marbles laid down. Last year the drivers enjoyed themselves because they were given soft and hard tyres. Everybody qualified on the soft tyres, changed to the hard tyres and drove away into the Indian sunset, one-stopping. The drivers were happy because they could drive flat out on the hards without having to think about tyre conservation. After the start it was a boring race.

This year Pirelli have set far more difficult homework and brought the soft and medium compounds. With this season's tyres also being softer than last year's equivalents, they have thrown the teams a strategy challenge likely to be split between two and three stops. What also has to be factored in is one of the longest pit lanes in F1, which means there will be a real saving by cutting out one of the pit-stops.

Perhaps Lotus's big chance is to get Kimi Raikkonen to qualify well so that Lotus can mount a two-strategy challenge to the all-conquering Red Bull team. In Japan, Red Bull had Mark Webber three-stopping and Sebastian Vettel two-stopping and Romain Grosjean not sure who to react to.

Red Bull will be supreme in New Delhi because there has only ever been one leader of the Indian Grand Prix -Sebastian Vettel. And one thing that Mercedes believe is keeping him at the front is some clever Renault engine mapping. Some say they've heard an audible difference to the engine note since Korea, though Fernando Alonso thinks not. But now Lotus seem to have jumped back into contention all of a sudden, and this on a much reduced budget than the two teams they are battling with - Ferrari and Mercedes

In Japan, Renault took the engine honours for the most ever pole positions and they filled all of the podium. So no surprise that Remi Taffin, head of trackside engineering should go up and collect a trophy. And with this boost Lotus could make a dramatic bid to take second in the Constructors' Championship, with Merc and Ferrari themselves only separated by ten points.

Further back down the grid, Sauber's late-season challenge looks to have eclipsed Toro Rosso and they're now gunning for Force India who thought they were safe in sixth place. And the new teams only have to secure a 12th place to win that particular fight.

The hot news around the paddock will be the signing of Daniil Kvyat to the Toro Rosso team next year. The 19-year-old Russian will join JEV after some impressive performances in GP3 this year. Two teenage Russians in mid-grid cars in 2014 - now who could have seen that coming...?

FH

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