The Formula One season continues its progression throughout Asia this weekend, and does so in one of the most important countries in the world for only the third time ever – India.
Sebastian Vettel can win the championship if he finishes in the top five at the Buddh International Circuit, or alternatively he will be victorious if Alonso does not score ten points more than the German this weekend.
This venue is one of the newest on the calendar, but with the growing importance of India as an economic powerhouse in addition to the number of people there that could potentially be turned into F1 fans, it is no surprise.
Several places were previously linked with hosting Formula One races, such as Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Mumbai, but these proposals eventually stopped due to a shift in focus of government policy.
However, an Indian Grand Prix on the 2009 calendar was announced in 2007, but rescheduling saw it changed to 2011 at the Buddh International Circuit in partnership with the Indian Olympic Association. The circuit itself is part of the Jaipee Green Sports City complex, managed by the group of the same name.
The Indian circuit was designed to be challenging and it can be argued that they have succeeded in their goal. The first sector is characterised by long straights separated by tricky slow corners which have multiple potential driving lines, before hitting the second sector, which starts with five quick turns leading in to a fast 215 degree multiple-apex loop. The final sector is simply a quick kink followed by two turns designed to take the drivers back to the finish.
A high downforce setup is needed for the track, as drivers can reach a top speed of 324 kilometres per hour on the long straight between turns three and four but they also need to maximise performance in the slow corners. Unlike many of the newer tracks, the elevation changes around the lap provide many other challenges to the drivers.
They are on full throttle for around 65% of the lap. The lap record for the track is a 1:27.249 by Sebastian Vettel, set in 2011.
A lap with Mark Webber
Sebastian Vettel has won every race since his victory at Spa, and he has also won every edition of the Indian Grand Prix. He has also led every lap of every Indian Grand Prix, with the only blip coming from Jenson Button setting the fastest lap in the 2012 edition to prevent Vettel from achieving a Grand Chalem.
Admittedly Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber tested the German driver at Suzuka. That is, worryingly, the only sign of anyone else who might be competing this weekend. And Fernando Alonso needs to perform better if he wants to be in with a chance of winning the world championship.
Pirelli and the Buddh International Circuit
India, a new addition to the Formula One calendar in 2011, features some sweeping elevation changes and a wide variety of corners, making it a truly spectacular venue that works the tyres hard, especially given the high ambient temperatures. After two years of nominating the hard and the soft compound at the Buddh circuit, this year Pirelli has opted to nominate the P Zero White medium tyre together with the P Zero Yellow soft tyre.
Paul Hembery: “We’ve decided to go for the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres in India this year, which we think will be the best combination for the Buddh circuit and lead to closer racing. For the last two years running we’ve actually gone for the hard and soft compounds, which might have been slightly on the conservative side, so this year we’ve gone for a softer and slightly more aggressive choice.
As a result, just like the last race in Japan, we’re not expecting to see a particularly big variation in lap times between the two compounds. Consequently, the strategy made a very big difference in Japan and this should be the same in India. We only had one pit stop per car in India last year, but this year we would expect two – which also provides the drivers and teams with more opportunities to make up places.
With varying elevations and a wide variety of corners India provides the tyres with quite a test, as there are forces coming from all directions, so tyre management will once again prove to be important. As usual, it should be very warm in India, which increases thermal degradation as well. This looks set to be a decisive race for the championship so we hope that our tyre choice will help to make it a memorable contest with high-quality racing.”
Jean Alesi: “Before we talk about India, I’d just like to go back to the Japanese Grand Prix, which is a race that I very much enjoyed watching. I think it really showcased the difference that strategy can make, and the incredible thing is what a close result you can see even with completely different strategies being used.
The tension and spectacle this creates for those of watching the race is fantastic. As for India, it’s not actually a circuit that I’ve ever raced on myself but I’ve heard some positive comments from the drivers. There is a bigger picture though: I think that having races in territories such as India is tremendously important because there is huge sporting and commercial potential.
As well as driving the cars, the drivers have a real responsibility to be ambassadors for the sport: to awaken the public’s interest in Formula One and all the people who are involved in it. That ambassadorial role is so much more important in places like India than Monza, for example, which has hosted Formula One for many years already. You see tremendous enthusiasm for sport generally in India, particularly cricket, and it would be fantastic if Formula One could have the same sort of following.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view
One of the most challenging areas of the circuit is the complex that makes up Turns 10 and 11: both of which are taken in quick succession almost as single corner. The tyres have to withstand a high- energy lateral force for around seven seconds. The front-left tyre is worked hardest here, and it has to withstand an acceleration force of up to 4g on the exit of the corner, where maximum grip is needed to hold the racing line.
Turn 4 is another crucial area of the circuit. Here, the cars decelerate from 320kph to 90kph in just 140 metres. The tyres are subjected to a deceleration force of 3.6g, but still have to guarantee stability and precision throughout the braking area.
India also has one of the longest straights of the year, which is more than a kilometre long. The tyre rotates around 50 times per second at full speed, and by the end of the straight the temperature on the tread can exceed 100 degrees centigrade.
Technical tyre notes
The pit lane in India is one of the longest in Formula One at around 600 metres. This leads to a relatively significant time loss when changing tyres, which is an important factor when considering the race strategy.
The track surface in India is generally not very abrasive. However, having made its debut only two years ago, the asphalt is still evolving. Over time, new asphalt tends to get rougher, as the bitumen on the surface is swept away, leaving the stones that make up the asphalt exposed. This increases abrasion, which has an effect on tyre wear.
All the finishers at last year’s race – where the hard and the soft compound were used – stopped once only, at around lap 30. The most popular strategy by a long way was to start on the soft compound and finish on the hard compound, although one or two drivers further down the grid used the opposite strategy to their advantage.
A lap with Pirelli
Brembo and the Buddh International Circuit
This is a medium difficulty track for the brakes with the sole exception being turn 1, right after the finish line and turn 3 at the end of a long straight stretch, both characterised by deceleration greater than 5 Gs. The autodrome has seldom been used until now and this leads to long “rubberising” times with consequent variations in braking system use over the three days of the weekend.
With the increase in grip the time spent on the brakes decreases while the power dissipated in braking increases: this results in a change in how the braking system temperatures are managed which must be duly taken into consideration when defining the air intakes.
* Turn 03 is considered the most demanding for the braking system.
2011 – In the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, Vettel won the race comfortably from Jenson Button, with the main talking point coming from Lewis Hamilton’s clash with Felipe Massa which saw the Brazilian exit the race; this continued a rivalry that had already been too close for comfort on several other occasions.
2012 – Vettel won this one again, despite Fernando Alonso overtaking several drivers in order to finish second, with Mark Webber rounding out the podium after having to fend off Lewis Hamilton without KERS in the latter stages of the race.
Statistically, the most successful Indian driver in Formula One was Narain Karthikeyan, which is something that will see ‘because he scored points at the 2005 United States Grand Prix’ added afterwards on almost every website out there. Aside from that fourth place finish for Jordan at Indianapolis, his next best results were two eleventh place finishes in Malaysia and Belgium that year. After visiting various other racing series – including being voted the most popular driver in the 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season despite competing in only nine rounds – he found himself back in Formula One again, this time with Hispania Racing.
In the two years he spent at the Spanish team he was dropped for Daniel Ricciardo in 2011 – with the exception of a one race deal for his home race – before they took the decision to re-sign him for 2012, which was motivated by his financial contribution and also his experience with the previous year’s car. Ultimately, while the HRT team improved throughout his time there, he found himself without a seat once again when they folded (although we can be reliably certain that he would have been replaced by Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua anyway).
The only other Indian driver to have competed in a race is Karun Chandhok, who also raced for the Hispania team when it was created in 2010. Despite scoring the joint second highest race finish with the team after a 14th place finish in Australia and Monaco (Senna was 14th in Brazil and Liuzzi was 13th in the 2011 Canadian race), he was unceremoniously dropped for the Japanese driver Sakon Yamamoto at the German Grand Prix, who would end up switching with Christian Klien on occasion.
The next year, he was signed up as a test driver for Team Lotus, and instantly made an impact when he crashed into the wall in the first few minutes of the first FP1 session of 2011. His only opportunity to race would be when he replaced Jarno Trulli in the German Grand Prix that year, simply because the Italian complained about the power steering and it wouldn’t be replaced until the week after. Plus, it gave Chandhok the opportunity to gain experience ahead of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, but the team decided that he would not be racing in it. Since then, he has appeared as an analyst on Sky Sports F1.
The MRF Challenge begins this weekend at the Buddh International Circuit, which is a Formula 2000 racing series sponsored by MRF, one of the leading tyre manufacturers, and was won last year by Conor Daly. This year there will be two races over the Formula One weekend, before the series heads to Bahrain for two rounds; the first as a support series for the World Endurance Championship and the second as part of the Gulf National Racing Festival, and in total these will contribute eight races to the calendar. The final round will take place in Chennai at the Irungattukottai race track next February.
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|