Indian Grand Prix, 25 – 27 October
Venue Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida
Lap record 1m 27.249s – Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull (2011)
|Pole Position||Fastest Lap||Winner||Second||Third|
1m 27.249s on lap 60
1m 28.203s on lap 60
|Fernando Alonso||Mark Webber
A popular circuit thanks to its undulating layout, combination of mundane and menacing corners and ultra-quick lap speed, Noida is a demanding circuit for tyres owing to the high ambient temperature and low grip, expected of such a new venue.
A smooth circuit means the teams can run lower ride heights, with less danger of the car bottoming out unless their drivers get particularly well-acquainted with the kerbs. With two long straights, both of which will see DRS in use during the race, teams will look to maximise top-end speed and work on balance and driveability for the slower, technical section in the middle of the lap.
Turn 10 poses an interesting challenge, a quadruple-apex right-hander that is reminiscent of the awesome Turn 8 in Istanbul. It is taken at an average speed of around 130mph and the left front tyre takes a real beating as the G forces load up during the time it takes to traverse the corner.
Race strategy highlights from last year
Last year’s race was the first in which the teams were not at all concerned about tyre wear and were able to focus on pure pace for the full 60 laps.
Two factors combined to produce this – by the latter stages of the season teams were getting to grips with the wear rates on the Pirelli tyres and knew far better how to manage them, but the main reason was that the choice of hard and soft compounds was just too cautious and as a result virtually the whole field opted to stop just once.
In the top ten those solitary stops came between laps 25 and 33, although Romain Grosjean went slightly longer to lap 36 having started on the hard tyres and switching to softs for the final 24 laps, but there were limited opportunities for this alternate strategy to pay off and Grosjean only made up two places while Nico Hulkenberg started one place behind and finished one place ahead having taken the same soft-hard approach as the seven cars ahead of him.
Out front, zero concerns on tyres let Vettel storm away from pole and take control of the race. Webber ran second with Alonso third but neither could match Vettel’s pace, dropping away to over 11 seconds behind when the sole stops came around.
Afterwards Vettel managed his pace accordingly, the gaps reduced slightly and when Alonso passed Webber for second, Vettel made sure that 9.4 seconds was as close as the Ferrari driver got.
What to look out for in 2013
Last year’s race was uneventful in terms of on-track action, with Pirelli bringing what turned out to be a far more conservative choice of tyre compounds than was necessary.
They look to be avoiding that mistake this year with the soft and medium tyres guaranteeing a significant step in performance between the two, and chances of a two or three-stop race as we saw in Japan which should create some interest.
It looks as though that interest will not take place up front however – Vettel is the form man in India having won both previous races from pole position and looks likely to make it three in a row which would confirm his fourth straight World Championship.
The battle to be best of the rest looks to be played out between Lotus, Mercedes and Ferrari with all three teams locked in a battle for second place in the Constructor’s Championship – just 33 points separate the three teams and its Lotus who are on the up, so look out for another strong performance from the Enstone team and Romain Grosjean in particular, who is driving like is a man reborn of late.
Who has the best record in India?
Sebastian Vettel has won both Indian Grands Prix held to date, winning from pole on both occasions. Fernando Alonso has shared the podium with him on both occasions, finishing as runner-up in 2012 and taking third spot in the inaugural 2011 race.
Jenson Button (second in 2011) and Mark Webber (third in 2012) are the only other drivers to have featured on the Noida podium. Of the non-podium finishers, Lewis Hamilton has the next-best record with an average finish of 5.5, consisting of P7 in 2011 and P4 last year.
How important is pole position?
This race has only ever been won from pole but given that this is only the third time the Indian Grand Prix has been held, it is wise not to draw too many conclusions from this.
What we can say about the 100% record is that the Indian Grand Prix is always held around the time of year that Red Bull start to edge away from the pack – in 2011 they were enjoying a dominant season and Vettel won comfortably from Jenson Button’s McLaren, while in 2012 it was Fernando Alonso who took the fight to Red Bull but on neither occasion could either driver get within striking distance of the Red Bull.
The Noida track appears to play perfectly to Red Bull’s strengths, and the chances are high that the 100% streak will continue this weekend.
Tyre wear: 7/10
Pirelli chose the hard and soft tyres last year, but the decision to bring the soft and mediums this time should move away from the regulation one-stoppers that blighted the action in 2012.
Although the track has a couple of long straights and two DRS zones, the winding middle sector of the lap requires higher downforce to squash the car into the track at high speed. There’s plenty of direction changes here that will catch out a car with a less than optimal setup.
Average speed: 7/10
The hairpins at Turns 3 and 4 are the only truly ‘slow’ corners on the track – a 1.2km back straight and fast middle sector means Noida registers an average lap speed towards the top end of the scale.
Track difficulty: 7/10
The first part of the lap – two straights, a flat-out left hander and two corners – are bread and butter for an F1 driver, but the middle sector of the lap is what sorts the men from the boys. Between Turns 5 and 4 the track dips, turns, climbs and changes direction seven times with the long four-apex right-hander at Turn 10 a particularly fiendish challenge.
Two DRS zones should in theory provide passing chances but last year showed the cars were struggling to stay close enough to pull off a move.
India deserves a place on the F1 calendar but it has not made the cut for 2014. This is no reflection on the circuit but a message to the Indians about over-complicated customs regulations that make getting into the country a real nightmare.
On track the circuit is as good as any, but it has yet to serve up a truly compelling race as Red Bull have dominated both races held here so far.
Driver’s eye view: Mark Webber, Red Bull
"It’s an extremely unique country for lots of different reasons, culturally there’s lots going on and you’ve got some pretty spectacular cities, busy cities. I’ve tried some of the local food and it’s really tasty, and obviously spicy, but I don’t mind that!
"The track is good. I think they’ve done a good job with the circuit, it’s a place where you can really put a Formula One car on the limit and it’s quick.
"It’s a very demanding track for the car and driver. It’s probably very similar to the old Turkey circuit, but the middle sector is very similar to Silverstone - it’s very, very fast, but has some undulations as well. The undulations are quite good and quite cute; they’ve put them in some challenging areas for us."
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
"For India we've nominated the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres, which we think will be the best combination for the Buddh circuit. For the last two years running we've actually gone for the hard and soft compounds but this year we've gone for a softer 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 and it will be interesting to see if this is the case once more.
"We only had one pit stop last year, but this year we would expect two - which also provides the drivers and teams with more opportunities. 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."