The Buddh International Circuit in Uttar Pradesh could hardly be considered a classic. Two years have passed since it made its F1 debut in 2011, and both races have been somewhat of a snooze-fest if you are anything other than a Sebastian Vettel fan.
This weekend it may well be the centre of the sporting world as the German shoots for title number four.
After waltzing untroubled to victory in 2011 and 2012, on paper this year’s Indian Grand Prix looks a cert for another overwhelming Red Bull triumph – and yet more champagne. Vettel is on the verge of even greater glory, and could elevate himself to joint second in the all-time list of Champions if he equals Alain Prost and Juan Manuel Fangio’s fourth titles in Noida.
Red Bull – Coming off the back of a resounding success in Japan, during which they could afford the luxury of split-strategies for Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber despite the threat of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean. With five consecutive victories under their belt and the only winners to date of the Indian Grand Prix, it’s hard to look past the Anglo-Austrian team.
Mercedes – Had another mare in Suzuka, what with Lewis Hamilton’s start-line woes and Nico Rosberg’s double run-in with Sergio Perez. They’ve got the pace to be there with Red Bull on Saturday, but Sunday’s race with a high of 30c could present tyre concerns for Mercedes. Hamilton seems more relaxed and focused than he did a couple of races ago, and that could play in his favour as he bids to get on terms with the Red Bull duo.
Lotus – Back to their best? The summer had a couple of worrying lows for the Enstone-based team, but Romain Grosjean has re-invented himself in the interim to become the most consistent competitor to Red Bull from Singapore onwards. His performance in Suzuka was nothing short of outstanding, but Kimi Raikkonen appears to have let the ball slip somewhere in qualifying. Monetary problems do not seem to be causing too much concern at the track, but the announcement of some oil-money (Maldonado or Massa, anyone?) would do wonders to restore their bank balance as they look ahead to life after Kimi.
Ferrari – Fernando Alonso achieved what he needed to achieve in Japan, but the Spaniard recognises that short of a Vettel retirement this weekend it’s game over for another season. He must out-score Vettel by at least 16 points to remain ‘in the hunt’ as we head to Abu Dhabi, meaning a 1st or 2nd place is a necessity regardless of what happens to the World Championship leader. Felipe Massa is in the swansong of his Scuderia career, and is celebrating by hindering Alonso as much as he can – his qualifying performances of late have put Alonso to shame.
McLaren – Eighty seconds off the race winner in Melbourne – eighty seconds off the race winner in Suzuka. 2013 has not been kind to McLaren, but India is a circuit that might bring a little more hope than recent events. It’s fast, flowing and in the words of Lewis Hamilton ‘rather like Spa’. Considering McLaren’s best races of the season have been Monza and the Belgian Grand Prix, that’s no bad thing. Talk of that elusive podium has dwindled over the past couple of events, but a strong points finish might be within the reach of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez. The Mexican needs it as well; his McLaren future appears to be under threat.
Sauber – Comprehensively their best team performance in Japan, the Swiss outfit are getting better and better. Hulkenberg continues to impress, while Esteban Gutierrez finally fulfilled his role by backing up the German with a strong 7th place in Suzuka. More of the same in India will pull them level with Force India, and 6th in the constructor’s championship will be theirs for the taking.
Force India – Three points from seven races is the dismal tale of Force India’s second half of the season. So bad has it got that Paul Di Resta claimed he was pleased to finish 11th last time out, but in India, home of the big boss if not the team, anything short of points will be a public humiliation. Di Resta hasn’t scored since Silverstone – can he put that right this weekend?
Toro Rosso – More in the news for the shock-signing of Daniil Kvyat than anything this week, the team needs a good weekend to remain in touch with the rapidly-improving Sauber. Ricciardo and Vergne drive as well as ever, but rotten luck in Japan blunted their charge. Perhaps India will be an improvement.
Williams – It’s been said before, it’ll be said again; their worst season – ever. Coming to blows over 14th place in Suzuka was a dire microcosm of Williams’ awful 2013 campaign, and snatching a single point would be a result to be proud of before season’s end.
Caterham – With dry and hot weather forecast all weekend, there’s little chance of an upset from the boys in green. Finishing 13th or higher is their aim to topple Marussia from 10th in the constructor’s championship.
Marussia – Jules Bianchi should be back to full fitness after his elbow injury incurred in Suzuka FP1, and they’ll need every inch of the Frenchman’s talent to edge Caterham in the battle for that 10th place in the team’s table. Max Chilton drove brilliantly in Japan too, and he must replicate it to stand him in good stead for 2014.
What they say
“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.” Lewis Hamilton, GBR, Mercedes AMG
“We’ve decided to go for the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres in India this year, which we think will be the best combination for the Buddh circuit and lead to closer racing. 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.” Paul Hembery, GBR, Pirelli motorsport
“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 upon which to overtake. In fact, the rest of the circuit is quite fast, with only a single racing line, so trying to get past during the rest of the lap is pretty tricky.” Jenson Button, GBR, McLaren Mercedes
“I think the layout is one of the best from the new generation of tracks. Sector one stands out for me because it’s where you can really challenge somebody – it’s got long straights and big braking zones and can make for some exciting battles. The rest of the track has elevation changes and off-camber corners so it’s a challenging combination for the engineers as it’s important to have good mechanical grip. We didn’t score points in Japan but we made some real progress with setting up the car, so going an extra step and getting in the top ten has got to be the goal this weekend. Friday is going to be crucial because this is one of those tracks where finding the right rhythm with a well-balanced car really pays you back with lap time.” Paul Di Resta, GBR, Force India
“The team have good experience of the track, having raced there on two occasions previously and, as always, the work we have done in the sim will be a huge benefit, so we have a good foundation on which to start the weekend. Having reflected on Japan in particular I’m really pleased with how things are progressing at the moment, so I’m hoping for a similarly productive time in India, making good steps at every stage of the weekend.” Max Chilton, GBR, Marussia
Friday – Low 19c/High 31c – Sunny
Saturday – Low 18c/High 30c – Sunny
Sunday ; Low 18c/High 30c – Sunny