Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- India all set for inaugural Grand Prix
- Battle for second place still undecided
- Typical hot Indian weather expected
With the season almost running to its end, Formula One still faces the challenge of round 17 of the FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile), the Indian Grand Prix, hosted on the brand new Buddh International Circuit, situated 50 km south-east of New Delhi. The 5.137 km long track has been designed by German Hermann Tilke, who also was in charge of the construction of the track and all its structures. It is said to be a very fast track, possibly even the fastest track of the season, and for drivers the Turns 10, 11 and 12 pose the main challenge, as it a fast sequence of corners and has been compared with the famous Turn 8 at the Turkish Istanbul Park circuit. The main straight is 1060 long and is one of the longest straights, and the pit lane with a total length of 600 meters is by far the longest pit lane of all Grand Prix circuits on this year’s calendar.
Tilke has done a great job design-wise and local authorities and constructing companies against all odds managed to complete the circuit in time. For Force India it will be their first ever home Grand Prix, and team owner Vijay Mallya is proud of the new circuit. “I have been involved in motor racing for over 30 years and it's one of my greatest passions. I brought the first Formula One car over to India in the 1980s and it was always a dream of mine to one day see this great nation host a Grand Prix. So this weekend is a very significant moment and I'm extremely proud. It's a major step forward for Indian motor sport and for sport in general in our country. We are all looking forward to it immensely,” he stated.
Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok
For the occasion, Indian HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan will take over the steering wheel from his Italian HRT colleague Vitantonio Liuzzi, and for him this race is important as well. “Driving in front of the home crowd cheering on is going to be a surreal experience. A once in a lifetime experience and I feel extremely fortunate,” he commented. About the track he said, “It is going to be one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar. There are points at which, if you're in a Formula One car, you will see nothing but the sky. The layout itself is going to put tremendous energy through the tyres and the strategy will play a key role in the final result.” And he added, “For sure I'll race hard and try to get a good result for myself and the team.”
Not so lucky is Karun Chandhok, who had hoped to take over Jarno Trulli’s seat at Team Lotus, but contractual issues with the regular drivers could not be solved and sadly Chandhok with not participate in the race itself. “I accept the team's decision to opt for the experience and talent they have at their disposal with Jarno and Heikki. This is a team that is still young, still growing, and I know that they have to do their best to secure their future in the sport - sometimes the hard decisions have to be made, and in this case it must have been a very difficult choice, but I understand that this isn't about me,” he somewhat disappointedly said.
But he will take on his usual role as Friday morning driver and he is certainly looking forward to get a taste of the new track. “I am very excited about driving at the new Buddh International Circuit in front of my home crowd. You will definitely see me in Friday's practice session and there I will definitely give my best,” said Chandhok.
The main battle this weekend
The main battle this weekend will involve the usual suspects: Red Bull Racing, McLaren and Ferrari. Both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships are in the hands of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, but there is still the battle for second place in the Drivers’ Championship, which is led by McLaren’s Jenson Button who currently occupies second place, and is followed by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who is 10 points behind the Briton, while Red Bull’s Mark Webber currently holds fourth place, 13 points behind Button. Lewis Hamilton has had struggles over the past few races and was involved in a number of incidents, which ultimately led to his decent from second to fifth place in the championship, and he is now 26 points behind his team mate.
But that certainly doesn’t mean Vettel will be satisfied with any place less than first place, and the 2011 Champion is on the prowl for his 11th season victory. “By the time we race in India, I'll have done several laps of the track on the simulator, the track is a combination of slow corners and high-speed straights which flow into each other” said Vettel. “We're expecting the track to have the second highest average speed of the season after Monza. That means that we'll be completing a lap at an average speed of 235kph, so there should be plenty of good opportunities to overtake. I'm really looking forward to India; I always do when we drive on a new track.”
Second place man Button is of course aiming to keep his second place, he has won three races this season and winning the inaugural Indian Grand Prix is high in his wish list. For him, India will also be a whole new experience, “The first time you run on a new circuit is a strange experience because you're piecing together an incredibly diverse and vivid set of data in your mind. That's quite an intense experience. You're quickly gathering everything together -- constantly assessing the grip-level, watching for unexpected bumps, checking the kerb-height, run-off areas, pitlane entry and exit, gradient, and that all happens at about 170mph!”
Like others he only knows the track from the simulator, “The track itself 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 it's the end of the lap that's more interesting: there are some pretty high-speed changes of direction through the esses and some gradient change.”
The number three on the list is Alonso, and the Spaniard is looking forward to his first lap on the circuit, “I am very excited to be here, a new circuit is a new challenge from a driver’s point of view. This circuit looks very interesting, especially the last sector, which is very different and quick, allowing for good flowing speed to be used.” But he admitted it would be tough for Ferrari, “We just need to be honest with ourselves and do the best we can in the remaining races and work a lot better and more than we did this year if we want to improve for next year which is already our target.”
Fourth place man Webber has not won a race this season, and he is upbeat about driving on a new circuit, “It's always nice to drive at a new venue and in the simulator it looks like quite a quick flowing track, very rewarding. It's going to be pretty warm, which is going to be a challenge for the tyres.”
Hamilton is the number five, and after his recent woes with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa is now looking forward to a trouble free race, and is also excited about the new venue, “I really think the people of India are going to take Formula One to their hearts. I really hope India will get turned on to Formula One in a big way -- it would be amazing to have an entire continent supporting you -- and I really hope we can put on a fantastic race!”
A few problems, but new circuit gets seal of approval
It has been a race against the clock to get the Buddh International Circuit finished in time. Today Bernie Ecclestone, who turns 81 this Friday, was very satisfied with the new venue, “Super, the track is super,” he was quoted saying by Reuters. And the Formula One boss added, “They did everything we wanted them to do within, what, two or three years of reaching the agreement. It took Silverstone 25 years, so I think they've done very well.”
Also tree-times World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart was impressed. “I just walked in and it looks hugely impressive. From just driving in, the scale of it, it's extraordinary. I think it's wonderful and this is the new world. And they've done that [just] like that,” he reported.
Vicky Chandhok, father of Karun, was involved in the project and remarked, “Let's be honest, it's like a new-born child. You've got to nurse it along.” He admitted a few things were not quite finished, “We've all got to accept there are a few shortcomings but at least the will to do it is there. That's the most important factor.” And he proudly reported, “You've got some electrical and plumbing issues but the circuit, talk to any driver and I think they are absolutely gob smacked this morning. There's not a single team principal that hasn't come up to me and said what a fantastic circuit it is!”
Tributes to Wheldon and Simoncelli
The recent deaths of Briton Dan Wheldon and Italian Marco Simoncelli have certainly made an impact on all Formula One drivers and teams. Although Formula One hasn’t had a fatality in 17 years, Stewart warned the sport should not rest on its laurels and urged all involved to learn from those terrible accidents that shocked the world of motor sport. He told interlocking wheels are still an issue, and therefore Formula One should never become complacent and should step up its game when it comes to safety.
HRT today announced both cars will have a black ribbon painted on the body shell, to honor and pay respect to Wheldon and Simoncelli. The HRT statement read: “HRT F1 Team would like to pay its respects to the friends and families of both drivers, their teams and the motor sport community as a whole by wearing this black ribbon in their honor on both cars.”
Vettel commented when he arrived in India, “It has been a horrible last two weeks for motorsport. Last week I sat on my sofa and watched the MotoGP and saw the crash of Marco. I wasn't a very close friend but I knew him and I met him this year.” About the situation in Formula one he said, “We will keep the fingers crossed and hope nothing will happen but it's not impossible and we know that.”
Webber agreed, “There is always going to be an element of risk there because of the speed because you are competing against other people. Errors of judgment, an error of judgment from a mechanic or conditions mean that one day you might get hurt.” But, he said, “When I'm driving the car tomorrow, I'll still feel incredibly safe and I'll feel comfortable to push the car as hard as I can.”
Ferrari’s Alonso said, “They were very sad days. Being at home, watching television. With the Dan accident I saw it on the replay on the news and I was shocked for two or three days, for sure.” He also understands the risks, “But when you are driving and close the visor you don't think about the risk. We love motor racing, we love the competition, and the love of the adrenaline that we have back from driving, it blinds you from the risk.”
Buddh International Circuit - India
|Buddh International Circuit||India|
|Circuit length||5.137 km|
|Longest straight||1060 m|
|Total number of race laps||60|
|Total race distance||308.220 km|
|Average lap speed||208 km/h|
|Maximum speed||315 km/h|
|Minimum speed||80 km/h|
|Tyre compounds||Prime: Soft (Yellow) - Option: Medium (Silver)|
|Brake wear||Medium to high|
|Down force level||Medium|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice, 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
|FIA Stewards||Johnnie Herbert (GB), Gerd Ennser (GER), Vincenzo Spano (VEN)|
Buddh International Circuit, India - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Clear sky, sunny and very hot||15C||31C|
|Saturday||Clear sky, sunny and very hot||16C||30C|
|Sunday||Clear sky, sunny and very hot||15C||30C|
Pirelli tyre report
Pirelli has allocated the Soft (Prime, Yellow) and the Medium (Option, Silver) tyre compounds for the Indian Grand Prix, also a new and unknown territory for the Italian tyre company. It is expected teams will use the softer compound on Friday to check out the tyre wear on circuit that has never seen a race car and is still very much ‘green’, and they will get an extra set of softs on Friday to do that. Data collecting will be the name of the game Friday, and overnight teams will examine the data and decide what to use during qualifying and the race.
Head of Pirelli Motorsport Paul Hembery, “We've opted for a deliberately conservative nomination in selecting the hard tyre alongside the soft, simply because on a brand new circuit you are never quite sure of the exact race conditions you will encounter.” Hembery indicated it is difficult to give a prediction about the number of pit stops, “It's 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.”
The FIA have announced a two-zone DRS setup for the Indian circuit. There will be two zones with each their own activation zone. The detection zone, where a driver must be within one second of the car he wants to overtake, for the first zone will be 10 meters after Turn 15, while the activation zone starts 36 meters after Turn 16 which leads to the start/finish straight and ends when a driver hits the brakes just ahead of Turn 2.
The second zone is situated on the 1060 meter long back straight, the detection zone is 16 meters before Turn 3, and the activation zone is 510 meter after Turn 3. The second zone could become quite interesting, as the detection and activation zone are both on the same straight, if a driver out brakes another car just ahead of Turn 3, a slow hairpin, he can still use his DRS after he already overtook him, and start building up a gap before he enters Turn 4.
More drivers and team quotes
Mercedes are currently fourth behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, and have yet to score their first win, while Michael Schumacher has yet to score his first podium after his comeback in 2010. Like all other drivers, Schumacher is curious about the mysterious India, “I'm looking forward to experiencing this new culture and seeing the track for the first time. I am sure we will be impressed with what has been done there. There has been a lot of interest in the build-up to the event, and therefore hopefully we will entertain a lot of new fans in India.”
It will also be Nico Rosberg’s first visit to India., “I am planning to spend a few days in the country and looking forward to doing some sightseeing, particularly making a visit to the Taj Mahal.” About the new track and the race on Sunday he said, “I hope the first race in India will be a great show for all motor sport fans there, and a big success. I enjoy going to new tracks for the first time as I tend to learn them quickly, and it will be very interesting to set the car up as there will be so many unknown points. I hope to be able to fight in amongst the top six cars again, like during the last race in Korea, but this time hopefully I will be able to stay ahead of one of them until the end of the race!”
Lotus Renault (5th with 72 points), Force India (6th with 49 points), Sauber (7th with 40 points) and Toro Rosso (8th with 37 points) are all battling for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Lotus Renault’s fifth spot looks relatively safe, as they are 23 points ahead of Force India. Vitaly Petrov thinks the Indian Grand Prix will offer some opportunities for a good points score, “It will be quite challenging for the teams and drivers because it is a new track where no-one has raced before. That was the same story in Korea two years ago so I know it's quite a tricky scenario. I have prepared in many ways and racing in India will be a refreshing challenge. As a new circuit, it is a level playing field for everyone.”
Sauber recently lost their sixth place to Force India and are determined to get it back, and with just nine points difference, anything is possible. Sauber’s Technical Director James Key, “The track itself looks pretty interesting, as it has one long straight and a fairly high downforce requirement in some of the winding bits at the back. The track is not unlike other new circuits. There seem to be some overtaking opportunities, but the drivers need to learn where that works and how effective the DRS is.”
Kamui Kobayashi is as determined as ever to get the maximum from his car, “Obviously I don't know the track yet. Maybe I will walk it, although generally I don't regard track walking as being really very useful. The speed you have when you are on the circuit with the Formula One car is so different it changes everything. I certainly want to get a good result for the team, as well as for myself at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix.”
An interesting race lies ahead this weekend, all drivers and teams are looking forward to the new Buddh circuit, and as the circuit is unknown to all of them, this like Petrov said, ‘levels the playing field’. Some teams have had some time on the simulator to virtually explore the circuit and get familiar with the turns and hairpins, but only on Friday morning they will get a taste of the real thing.
It is all about getting to know the circuit and its characteristics, learn more about the grip levels and the tyre wear, and most important of all: get enough laps on the circuit to gather data which will be examined by the smart guys behind the computers. On Saturday morning there is the last chance to find the right setup for qualifying and Sunday’s race will certainly provide enough spectacle, fans of rain races will be disappointed, it will be sunny and very hot this weekend.
Button’s second place is everything but secure, a crash or a bad start will give his rivals the opportunity to catch up on him. And as McLaren and Ferrari are already preparing for the 2012 season, they have nothing to lose and will certainly aim for a victory or a place on the podium and they will be prepared to fight for it. For India and its almost 1.2 billion inhabitants it will be the first taste of Formula One, and it is up to the drivers to give them the show they have been looking forward to.