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India preview - Vettel on the verge of greatness 24 Oct 2013

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Practice, Friday, 26 October 2012 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing celebrate on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 28 October 2012 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 walks the track.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Thursday, 24 October 2013 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying, Suzuka, Japan, Saturday, 12 October 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice, Suzuka, Japan, Friday, 11 October 2013 (L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012 alongside Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-27 at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 28 Oc Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice, Suzuka, Japan, Friday, 11 October 2013 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Practice, Friday, 26 October 2012 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Thursday, 24 October 2013 Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India F1 and Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Caterham F1 walk the track.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Thursday, 24 October 2013 Grid girls.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 28 October 2012 Pit lane walkabout.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 28 October 2012

He didn’t quite get the job done in Japan thanks to Fernando Alonso’s fighting fourth place for Ferrari, but if Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel wins again in India this weekend he’ll not only clinch his fourth consecutive world championship but will take another step closer - with six wins in a row - to Alberto Ascari’s record of nine consecutive victories dating back to 1952-53. And you’d have to be a real gambler to bet against him, not just because of his current run of fortune but also because he’s never lost a race at the Buddh International Circuit.

Vettel comes to New Delhi with a 90-point lead over Alonso, so if he wins it doesn’t matter what the Spaniard does; even if Alonso finishes second he’d then be 97 points behind with only another 75 available on the board in the last three races. In fact, even if Alonso takes victory in India, a fifth place for Vettel would be enough to make the German champion once more. And, though the permutations are more complex, Red Bull are likely to retain their constructors’ crown this weekend, even if they don’t win the race.

On current form, it will take something special for anyone to beat Red Bull, and rather than Mercedes or Ferrari the pendulum has swung back in Lotus’s favour in the last couple of races. Kimi Raikkonen has lost a little ground, with his back pains and a dislike for what the latest construction Pirelli’s have done to the E21’s balance, but Romain Grosjean is coming on like gangbusters and was a genuine contender for the win in Suzuka.

“I’m feeling really good with the car, my confidence is getting higher with every race and I’m very happy with the team,” the young Frenchman says, “so I’ll keep working hard to improve the areas that need improving and we’ll keep pushing for top results right to the end of the season.

“I’m still looking back on Suzuka… The start was fantastic; the clutch kicked in, I put my foot down and whoosh! It was superb to go past both the Red Bulls like that and it’ll be one of my best memories of the year. I saw Mark [Webber] in my mirrors and started to pull away which was a big surprise in itself, so I was screaming ‘Come on baby, let’s go!’ in the cockpit. After the first lap I honestly thought it was going to be my day, but that first win will come soon…”

If anything happens to Vettel, that could be this weekend…

Meanwhile, Raikkonen is locked into a fight with Lewis Hamilton for third place in the drivers’ championship. The Finn currently has 177 points to the Englishman’s 161, but Hamilton vows not to give up, and is also intent on snatching second place for Mercedes from Ferrari in the constructors’ stakes. The Scuderia currently have 297 to the silver arrows’ 287, with Lotus still in with a shout on 264.

“I have really enjoyed our two visits to India so far,” Hamilton says. “It's such a vibrant country and the support that we've received from the fans there has been fantastic. They love sport and the knowledge that some of the fans that I've met have had about Formula One has been great to see. I really hope that we can see the country take Formula One to heart in the future. I also really like the Buddh International Circuit. The layout has a great rhythm and I love the fast turns and high speeds.

“We're hoping for a strong weekend after a couple of difficult races and I know that everyone has been working really hard to make sure that we can get all of the performance possible from the car over the last four races. We know that we have a good car and, if we can put together a good race weekend, then we have the potential for some great results before the season is over.”

Alonso admits that the championship was lost as long ago as July, but says he will be doing everything in his power to keep Ferrari in the runner-up slot behind Red Bull.

Further back, McLaren have pulled away from a troubled Force India, and while summarising what many of his fellow drivers think about the circuit, Jenson Button believes that they can add to their tally of 83 points.

“This is such a great racetrack; 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.

“The long back straight will once again make it important to balance the car’s gearing and downforce for maximum speed with DRS. That straight, and the braking zone into Turn 4, are probably the most straightforward places on the circuit to overtake. In fact, the rest of it is quite fast, with only a single racing line, so trying to get past during the rest of the lap is pretty tricky.

“The last few races have shown that, realistically, we’ll once again be fighting for the minor points. Still, I enjoyed my races in Korea and particularly Japan - where it was both satisfying and unusual to be armed with fresh tyres and able to pick off cars on older rubber, as opposed to the other way round - so I’ll be looking to take the fight to some of the faster cars once again this weekend.”

Further back, Force India’s 62 points are under threat from Sauber, who have been scoring well, taking 38 points in the last four races, and are now up to 45 and closing fast… Sixth place is not beyond their reach at that rate. Equally, the recently unlucky Toro Rosso have 31 points and their eye on Sauber’s seventh position. Force India are the only team expected to run a Friday driver, with James Calado replacing Paul di Resta for opening practice.

Located in the province of Uttar Pradesh, not far from New Delhi, India’s second largest and capital city, the Buddh Circuit was finished in October 2011. It demands high maximum velocity for the undulating back straight, but also good traction out of the four second-gear corners and high-speed stability through Turn 10, the banked double-apex right-hander that has a minimum speed of 250 km/h. Interestingly, the track rises 14 metres between Turns 1 and 3 alone, resulting in several corners which have challenging blind entries.

It’s also extremely smooth, so tyre degradation is minimal. Last year most drivers got by with a single pit stop. But because of that it can be difficult to generate decent temperatures in the rubber over a single lap in qualifying, so Pirelli are bringing their P Zero White Medium and Yellow Soft tyres to provide the best possible compromise between performance and durability.

Motorsport director Paul Hembery says: “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.”

There are no significant changes to the Buddh International Circuit, which features two DRS zones. The first, which has been extended slightly for 2013, has its detection point 16 metres before Turn 3 and its activation point 350 metres after the same corner. The second zone’s detection point is 10 metres after Turn 15, with the activation point 36 metres after Turn 16.

The weekend’s weather is expected to be consistent, with sun and ambient temperature highs of around 30 degrees Celsius forecast for all three days. The race will run over 60 laps of the 5.125-kilometre (3.184 mile) circuit, or 307.249 kilometres (191.924 miles). It starts at 1500 hours local time, which is five and a half hours ahead of GMT.

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