India preview - Vettel the man to beat at Buddh International 25 Oct 2012
Just as at the inaugural race here in 2011, Sebastian Vettel has to start favourite in New Delhi after Red Bulls recent startling run of form has yielded three consecutive victories and moved him into the lead of the world championship for the first time since Bahrain.
I loved the track layout last year, but not just because I won the race, Vettel says of the Buddh International Circuit. With an average speed of 235 km/h, the course is the second quickest of the year after Monza. There is a lot of elevation change around the lap which adds to the fun, from as much as 8 percent downhill and up to 10 percent uphill; its like a roller coaster! It really has emerged as one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar for the drivers.
As for the championship, its tough but thats what it is about. Im looking forward to the next couple of races. We had a good last couple of races but you know, weve seen the championship is pretty much up and down, a lot of things can happen. What do we do? I think we have to focus on ourselves; we need to have our best possible results and then we go from there.
I think at the end of the year if we have enough points theres a lot of people telling us so we dont have to do the mathematics ourselves!
Ferrari are a very long way from giving up, however. After conducting separate wind tunnel tests away from their own troubled facility, they believe they have made some important steps forward.
"The wind tunnel can only ever be a model of what things are like in reality and can never be completely real," chief designer Nicolas Tombazis said this week. "The data we saw in the wind tunnel did not match 100 percent the data we were getting from the track. We had some unpleasant surprises from some of the updates we brought to the last couple of races, so immediately, we wanted to fix that and understand where it had gone wrong.
"Therefore we have had an aero test prior to heading off to India, where we ran control tests on these updates to really understand what the problem was. We got some very interesting answers which we believe will allow us to recover from those problems and so, our aim in this forthcoming Indian GP, will be to make up the ground we have lost.
McLaren, too, believe they can still have an influence and will be looking to regain the form that Red Bull took away.
"Red Bull are within reach and we will never give up trying to turn that around," says technical director Paddy Lowe. I think we have seen this year that if you can qualify on the front row and then have even a moderate advantage or no advantage at all, it works for you to stay at the front. So we will have to turn qualifying around."
Lowe said that Red Bulls new advantage is just a chapter in the on-going development war, and that McLaren have fresh upgrades to redress the situation. "I don't think we've done anything wrong. Its just the war of development and it has swung during the year.
Though he is effectively out of title contention, Lewis Hamilton is fired up to deliver in India.
"I feel I've been driving better than ever recently, he says, even if the results haven't quite shown it. So I'm headed to India determined for another good result. I think we'll have a car that's a match for the circuit and I can't wait to get out there and start practicing on Friday."
McLaren are locked in battle for second place with Ferrari in the constructors' championship, after the Scuderia overtook them in Korea, but team principal Martin Whitmarsh believes they can claw back lost ground here and in Abu Dhabi.
"Our two weekends in Japan and Korea weren't particularly prosperous. But while fortune certainly didn't smile on us during those two races, it's proof if it were needed that no team or driver is immune from tides of good or bad luck. Of course, luck flows both ways and I'm positive that, after two disappointing races, this next double-header will be a more profitable affair for Jenson (Button), Lewis and the whole team."
Behind the top three, Lotus are working away at honing their E20 to keep Kimi Raikkonen in play in the title fight, while at Mercedes Nico Rosberg believes they have been making quiet progress which should become more evident here. Sauber are doing all they can to close the gap on Mercedes fifth place, while being chased hard by Force India for whom, naturally, this is as important a race as it is for HRTs Narain Karthikeyan. At Caterham, Giedo van der Garde will get another Friday morning run after his recent impressive showings, standing in for Heikki Kovalainen, while at Williams tester Valtteri Bottas will again replace Bruno Senna for FP1.
The Buddh International Circuit has one of the longest straights in Formula One, a big corner like Istanbul Parks, and has a 62 percent capacity for DRS in qualifying just like Spa-Francorchamps. To try and alleviate last years disappointing overtaking performances, besides the original DRS zone that runs along the full length of the start-finish straight, the second (separately activated) zone between Turns 3 and 4 has been extended by 80 metres.
There have been some other minor changes to the circuit since 2011. The grass to the right before Turns 5 and 16 has been replaced with asphalt. The asphalt on the exit of Turn 15 has been extended. The additional kerbs behind the apex kerbs at Turns 6, 7 and 8 have been lengthened by 5 metres at each end. An area of artificial grass has been laid behind the apex of Turn 7. A 1-metre wide strip of artificial grass has been laid behind the kerb around the inside of Turns 10 and 11. The verge on the right between Turns 8 and 9 has been levelled. The kerb, artificial grass and asphalt run-off area on the right after Turn 9 has been extended as far as the oval track loop. And finally the guardrail on the right before Turn 10 has been re-aligned further from the track.
Pirelli have been less conservative this time. Though they have brought their P Zero Silver hard and P Zero Yellow soft tyres, as they did last season, the 2012 compounds are softer compared to their equivalents last year.
Motorsport director Paul Hembery says: There was an amazing atmosphere and an extremely warm welcome at the Indian Grand Prix last year, so were all looking forward to going back. This year we know a little more about the track so weve made a less conservative choice, with the hard and the soft tyres striking exactly the right balance between performance and durability.
The circuit layout is one of the toughest that our tyres will face throughout the second half of the season and its also the last time that we will see the hard and soft combination this year, which was previously used in Barcelona, Britain and Japan - which gives you some idea about the demands of this track. The Buddh circuit has been specifically designed to encourage overtaking, which is also one of the objectives behind the design philosophy of our tyres, so we should be set for an action-packed race at a crucial point in the championship.
The weather should be consistent throughout the weekend, with sun and an ambient temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius on all three days, and Sundays race - round 17 of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship - will run over 60 laps of the 5.125-kilometre (3.184 mile) circuit, or 307.249 kilometres (190.924 miles). It starts at 1500 hours local time, which is five and a half hours ahead of GMT.
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