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Buddh International Circuit: Unsung Hero Takes Centre Stage

Round 17 - India 26-28 October 2012


Venue:

New Delhi

Circuit Length:

5.125 Km

Laps:

60

Lap Record:

1:27.249 = 211.463 km/h, Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 2011

2011 Results

Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:24.178 = 219.178 km/h

1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:30.35.002 (av. race speed = 203.513 km/h)
2nd: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes), 8.433s behind
3rd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 24.301s behind

Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:27.249 = 211.463 km/h on lap 60

BUDDH INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT: UNSUNG HERO TAKES CENTRE STAGE

Wouldn’t it be nice, for once, to turn the spotlight on one of the unsung heroes of F1? It’s not all about the Vettels, Webbers and Alonsos of this world: there are 24 drivers out there, after all, and this weekend one of them will enjoy his moment in the sun – or the haze, as the case may be. That’s Narain Karthikeyan, the sole Indian driver in Grand Prix racing, who revelled in the moment last year when his HRT took to the Buddh International Circuit in front of an adoring home crowd.

“I’ve got great memories from last year’s Grand Prix as I had a great weekend; the car was good and we were quick,” says 35-year-old Karthikeyan, who made his F1 debut in 2005 with Jordan. “I hope this year things go even better and I can dedicate it to the fans who are showing me so much support. I can’t wait to get out on track!” Narain took a five-place grid penalty last year for baulking Michael Schumacher in Q1 but went on to finish 17th, albeit three laps down. His best result in 15 starts this year was 15th in Monaco.

Last year, of course, it WAS all about Vettel as Seb claimed a splendid hat-trick in Buddh’s inaugural event: pole, race win and fastest lap – which he knocked off on his 60th and final tour despite numerous ‘phone calls’ from pit lane telling him to cool it. “I loved the track layout last year, but not just because I won the race,” said Vettel this week. “There is a lot of elevation change around the lap which adds to the fun, from as much as 8% downhill and up to 10% uphill; it’s like a roller coaster! It really has emerged as one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar for the drivers.”

Buddh may well be Hermann Tilke’s masterpiece – that is, until we get to Austin, which is likely to match the Indian track and become an instant classic. One of Buddh’s outstanding features is the long back straight which, unusually, dips in the middle, and where the cars are at full throttle for 15 seconds. The second half of the lap is a challenging series of interlinked corners, the stand-out being the long double right-hander at Turns 10-11. With the elevation changes that make life interesting in the cockpit, Buddh is already a favourite. Just ask Jenson Button.

“There are a couple of unusual factors,” says the McLaren star who was second to Vettel last year. “Firstly, the approaches to Turns 3 and 4 are incredibly wide – almost like a motorway – in order to stimulate different lines into the corner and encourage overtaking. I hear that’s an element that’ll be carried over to the new track at Austin, too. Secondly, the combination of Turns 10 and 11 is also pretty special – it’s a huge, bowl-shaped double-apex right-hander, a bit like Spoon at Suzuka. It’s unusual for a new circuit to have such fast corners, and it’s really enjoyable when you get the car hooked up through there – the lateral g feels great.”

Teammate Lewis Hamilton had an unhappy first Indian outing. Not only did he suffer that grid penalty, his race was marred by one of his 2011 Groundhog Day clashes with Felipe Massa’s Ferrari just before half-distance and he finished down in seventh. That didn’t stop him loving the place: “It has more in common with a great track like Spa than it does with any number of the more modern places we visit,” he says. “And that’s because it’s got an incredible flow – basically, from Turn 4, a wide-apex right-hander that sweeps downhill, the track is just a series of fast, rolling curves which really allow you to put the car absolutely on the limit.” And that, of course, is the definition of a Grand Prix driver’s trade.

Mark Webber inherited a front row start when Lewis Hamilton was pinged three grid places for ignoring yellow flags in practice, but the Australian didn’t have the straight-line speed to repel Jenson Button’s McLaren or Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and came home fourth. “The track is similar to Korea with mainly long straights in sector 1 followed by a very busy sector 2 and 3, so we need to get the balance right between downforce and top speed,” says Mark. The title is almost certainly out of reach for Webber but he’s just a point behind Hamilton and only 15 behind third-placed Kimi Raikkonen.

Mark’s compatriot Dan Ricciardo qualified 21st and finished 18th behind then-teammate Karthikeyan at Buddh last year and will hope for better things in the Toro Rosso, which he has taken to three consecutive points finishes in the last three outings. Dan sits three points behind Jean-Eric Vergne as he and ‘JEV’ tussle over bragging rights within the team.

Of the drivers making their first acquaintance with Buddh, it’s probably Romain Grosjean who will attract most attention. He was there last year, but in a watching role, and of course first laps have not been his forte this year. “I’ve been my own worst enemy at times this season, but hopefully now we can put it behind us and move forwards,” says the Lotus man, who was noticeably restrained last time out in Korea.

Grosjean also offers an interesting insight into first-time tracks: “With all the data we have today we know more about what we need to do in the corners; things like what brake pressure to use on approach, how much throttle to use on exit, how much speed you can carry through the mid-phase of the corner… all this can be looked at with your engineer in advance. In a way it’s easy when you know to use exactly 80 bar of pressure on the brakes or 80% of lift on the throttle for example. You take this information with you on a lap and you know how the car should behave.” Would, could, should…

If there was one criticism of the track last year it was the common complaint at modern F1 venues: the lack of overtaking. Officials have moved to address that problem by changing the DRS zones. In addition to the one that runs along the start-finish straight, the second one, on the long drag between Turns 3 and 4, has been extended by 80 metres. Pirelli will take the same tyre choice as last year, P Zero Silver (hard) and Yellow (soft), though the compounds are generally softer across the range this season.

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