India preview - a new dawn near New Delhi 28 Oct 2011
It has one of the longest straights in Formula One, a big corner like Istanbul Parks, goes up and down in places, and has a 62 percent capacity for DRS in qualifying that mirrors Spa-Francorchamps. Small wonder that the inaugural Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit outside New Delhi has everyone very excited this weekend.
Narain Karthikeyan, who will take over Vitantonio Liuzzis HRT for the weekend, expects a great race in his homeland.
This is going to be one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar. The texture of the tarmac is exceptionally smooth compared to most circuits on the calendar, so I think thats a plus. The lap time difference between the hard and soft tyres is going to be huge, maybe in excess of two seconds a lap. Id expect the teams to use the hard as little as possible: maybe just a short final stint in the race as the benefits in lap time produced by the soft tyre should outweigh its shorter life as the track surface isnt abrasive at all and track temperatures I think should be under 40 degrees during the weekend.
The long pit lane will play a part in strategy as well with teams trying to get through the race with as few stops as possible. The layout itself is going to put tremendous energy through the tyres - especially the banked Turn 10, which is a long, multiple-apex right-hander, somewhat similar to Turn Eight in Turkey. The front-left will definitely experience a lot of load through there - and there are a couple of slow-speed corners that will challenge the rears on exit. So overall it will be a great challenge for the tyres and itll be interesting to see how it pans out. I am so looking forward to it.
The range of slow and fast corners, and the long straights, will make the compromise between downforce and straight-line speed even harder to determine.
On current form Sebastian Vettel has to start favourite. By the time we race in India, Ill have done several laps of the track on the simulator, Red Bulls world champion says. What I know so far is that the track is 5.1 kilometres and in the industrial town of Noida, about 50 minutes by car from New Delhi. The track is a combination of slow corners and high-speed straights which flow into each other. The altitude difference is extreme, rather like in Spa or Turkey, which will give the driving an additional element.
Incidentally, were expecting the track to have the second highest average speed of the season after Monza. That means that well be completing a lap at an average speed of 235 km/h, so there should be plenty of good opportunities to overtake. Im really looking forward to India; I always do when we drive on a new track.
The McLaren drivers aim to upset the Germans equilibrium, however.
Its too early to say how quick well be, Lewis Hamilton says, but I think were set to be competitive at all of the final three races. We were quick at Singapore, Japan and Korea - and I think the pattern at the front has sort of settled down now as we reach the end of the season. I think we have a car that can be quick anywhere, so Id like to think wed be in the hunt again next weekend.
Indias a sport-mad nation - mostly, its about cricket, which is understandable because theyre a very successful cricketing country - but I really think the people of India are going to take Formula One to their hearts. The reception weve had in the last few years has been greater than I could ever have predicted and I think the whole country is ready for something new and something exciting.
Jenson Button says: The track has quite a nice mix of corners - the start of the lap is pretty stop-start, there are a couple of long straights mixed with tight hairpins, but its the end of the lap thats more interesting: there are some pretty high-speed changes of direction through the esses, and some gradient change.
One of the things that looks really interesting is the double-apex banked corner at the back of the circuit - thats pretty unusual. Its sort of a mix between Turn 13 at China and Koreas Turn 11.
I always look forward to the next Grand Prix. The word is that people in India are really excited about Formula One and the event - its important for the sport that we make a good first impression and I really hope we have a fantastic race. Our car's been pretty competitive recently and we'd like to win more races before the end of the season.
Adding to the unpredictable nature of the race is that everyone starts in the dark, especially Pirelli, when it comes to what exactly they can expect, though they have all done their simulation homework. Thats why the Italian tyre supplier have gone for the combination they brought to Silverstone, the P Zero Silver hard tyre - making its final appearance of the season - and the P Zero Yellow soft.
But this time the soft tyre has been nominated as the prime choice, with the harder compound as the option. This means that the teams will have more of the softer tyres than the harder tyres at their disposal during free practice on Friday, which will give them their first opportunity to run on the 5.125-kilometre track. In addition they will also get an extra set of soft tyres that day, allowing them to maximise their running and provide Pirelli with some valuable information for the future.
Pirelli expect considerable circuit evolution over the course of the weekend as more rubber gets laid down and the level of grip changes. This effect is also caused by the new track surface cleaning, before the oils in the bitumen dissipate and the asphalt begins to age.
Weve opted for a deliberately conservative nomination in selecting the hard tyre alongside the soft, says motorsport director Paul Hembery, simply because on a brand new circuit you are never quite sure of the exact race conditions you will encounter. But weve structured the allocation in such a way that we think the teams will run more on the softer tyres.
This will help us to make some decisions about our strategy for next year, particularly after we saw the excellent durability of the softer compounds. Its too early to talk about the number of pit stops we expect this weekend, but we anticipate a reasonably significant lap time difference between the two compounds.
Simulations suggest a lap time around 1m 27s, an average speed of 210 km/h, but with the longest pit lane in the business teams may opt for the minimum number of pit stops during the race. There are two independent DRS zones for the race, one on the start-finish straight and the other on the long back straight. The detection point for the first is just after the penultimate corner, while that for the second is just ahead of the Turn Three hairpin that leads on to the straight.
The weather should be reasonably settled throughout the weekend, with partial cloud and an ambient temperature of 29 degrees Celsius expected on each day.
Fridays opening practice session will see two Indian drivers on track, with Lotus tester Karun Chandhok joining compatriot Karthikeyan for FP1. Lotus took the tough call not to give Chandhok another race outing for his home Grand Prix, choosing instead to stick with their experienced line-up of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli as they bid to secure tenth place in the constructors championship.
Sundays race will run over 60 laps and starts at 1500 hours local time, which will be five and a half hours ahead of GMT.
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