Your guide to the Indian Grand Prix week

I’ll break up this blog into two parts. One is a VERY short and concise guide to what all you can expect in terms of off-track activities during the build-up to the Indian GP. And the other is a VERY long-winded guide to what can be expected on the track.

OFF-TRACK: Stories in newspapers about the reduced ‘buzz’ surrounding the event. About lower ticket sales; to an extent because of the transportational nightmare of getting to the circuit that was experienced last year. The Yamuna Expressway that connects to the circuit is finally open so there might be some relief. Also expect a lot more foreign press coming down this time. Not just because neither the drivers’ and constructors’ titles have been decided but also because of the success of last year’s event. Look out for stories about the contrast between a private company organizing an event of this stature in a country so riddled with problems ranging from infrastructure woes to corruption. Also expect a lot of stories featuring F1 drivers as they do the promotional rounds in the National Capital Region. And finally, expect Vijay Mallya to get a lot of flak for turning up despite all the problems being faced by Kingfisher Airlines. Even Narain Karthikeyan unwittingly got caught up in the fiasco as many people seem to be under the impression that he is/has been a Sahara Force India driver (not so at all).

ON-TRACK: There’s only six points between championship leader Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso but Vettel’s wins in the Japanese and Korean GPs has a lot of people tipping him to be the favourite for the title.

Let it be known, however, that this is no rant against Vettel and Red Bull’s return to dominance of Formula 1. On the balance of it, this season has been anything but a foregone conclusion and Vettel stands on the brink of joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Schumacher in the title hat-trick club. The young German will be the youngest in that club by far and has dug deep to capitalize on the recent run of bad luck for Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

The RB8 has looked dominant in the hands of Vettel over a single lap at both Suzuka and Yeongam, so there seems little to suggest that the fast and flowing Buddh International Circuit will not suit that combo.

Last year’s Indian GP was a battle between Vettel and McLaren’s Jenson Button as the latter excelled thanks in large part to his renowned smooth driving style. The section of the circuit that contains the rapid changes of direction from turns six to nine plays the biggest part in getting a lap around the 5.125km circuit right. Red Bull, with their indirectly blown diffuser – exhausts that use the Coanda effect (look it up) to channel gases to the diffuser to increase downforce – that they have worked on since the start of the season seem best prepared to tackle it but Button should excel here once again.

Will it be enough to beat Vettel and Red Bull though? Two factors could decide the outcome.

One is the fact that Red Bull’s parent company has enough money to promote the FIA World Rally Championship from 2013 as well as have the makings of its own space program (Google Felix Baumgartner) as well as sponsor and promote athletes and sporting events the world over. A revenue of 4.2 billion euros and an operating income exceeding a billion euros should allow for plenty of development of its F1 title challenger as well while working on their 2013 machine.

The second is that despite a much welcome cool down of the climate in the National Capital Region, track temperature during the race (scheduled to start at 3:00pm) should remain on the high side. Most likely above 35 degrees centigrade, possible even inching towards 40. After the inaugural event Pirelli has decided to bring its hard and soft compound tyres, leaving a gap in tyre choice as the medium compound tyre will not be used. The track surface is smooth but the combination of a softer, more ‘aggressive’ compound and fairly high track temperatures will play into the hands of a driver with a car that is easy on its tyres. That places Vettel and Red Bull as favourites.

Both McLaren drivers should be able to give it their all too, with Button presumably better over a race distance than Hamilton. In the ‘outside chance’ category Ferrai should be in pole position as you never discount Fernando Alonso. One also wonders if the Sauber drivers will be in the hunt for a late race charge with a longer stint on their tyres than anyone else.

Unfortunately, Mercedes seem ill-equipped to help Schumacher and Nico Rosberg to spring a surprise. The car is still hard on its tyres and its famed straight-line speed seems to have been eclipsed by Toro Rosso over the last two races. So the seven-time champion whose exploits and misadventures helped establish F1 as a fixture on Sunday television in India may not have a particularly happy swansong.

Long story short, it seems unlikely that anyone will stop Vettel and Red Bull at the Indian GP.

And to the neutral, it will seem like a shame that the season that started with such uncertainty now has an all too familiar feel to it.

(By Vinayak Pande)

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