ROUND 16 – India, 25-27 October 2013
Venue: New Delhi, India
Circuit Length: 5.125 kilometres
Lap Record: 1:27.249 = 211.463 km/h • Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) • 2011
This is the one venue of the year where the drivers are obsessed… with food. With bland pasta usually their staple trackside diet, India offers challenges other than the track. “I am not that used to it and certainly don't like spicy food, so that makes it quite tricky,” confesses Nico Hülkenberg. “I always have to ask for a very, very mild dish. Paneer tikka is actually my favourite local dish, which is delicious.” Our own Mark Webber doesn’t mind adding hot food to hot laps: “I’ve tried some of the local food,” he says, “and it’s really tasty, and obviously spicy, but I don’t mind that!” Even ice-cool Kimi warms to the subject: “ it was my first visit and I spent my time in the paddock and the hotel. We only come to race and India is a very big country! The thing I like is eating Indian food, which I really enjoy.”
Buddh International Circuit must rank as one of Hermann Tilke’s most successful creations – at least in terms of the strip of tarmac and the lay-out the drivers race on. “Sort of Suzuka-esque and a quick sort of Budapest, if you like,” is how Mark Webber sums it up. The first sector has relatively few corners but includes that long straight from Turns 3 to 4, the uphill right-hand acute angle; the second sector is a thrilling uphill dash with plenty of direction changes; and the third brings them back downhill with a slow left-hander on to the main straight. Pirelli are bringing their P Zero (White) medium and Yellow (soft) compounds this year.
SEB READY TO GO WITH THE FLOW
“I don’t know what it is about this circuit but I really like the flow of it,” said Sebastian Vettel after his second straight victory there last season. “There are some corners, like Turn 15, where you always think that something went wrong and you will try and do it better next time. You get challenged to the limit, which is obviously what we like.” Vettel likes it even more because he has also started from pole on both previous visits as well as setting fastest lap in 2011. He has also just won the last five races on the trot, taking his 2013 tally to nine victories: with four rounds left you can bet your boots he’s got his eye on a clean sweep to beat his previous season’s highest of 12.
If Vettel goes with that flow on F1’s third visit to New Delhi, he will lock away his fourth straight World Championship – a feat that only Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-57) and Michael Schumacher (2000-2003) have ever achieved. Vettel’s fellow-German then went on to make it five, something that seems well within the 26-year-old’s capacity at this stage. Going to India he has a 90-point lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. He needs a 75-point buffer for the final three races in Abu Dhabi – Austin – Interlagos, so a managed race will do it nicely. But when did Vettel ever really worry about managing his race?
Last year, as in 2011, Webber shared the front row with his teammate and very nearly beat him into Turn 1, which would have altered his race dramatically. Mark, like Vettel, loves the track: “It’s a place where you can really put a Formula One car on the limit and it’s quick,” he says. “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.” In other words, just the sort of circuit where a driver would like to post a Grand Prix victory before hanging up his F1 boots… Can Lotus blossom in India? Frenchman Romain Grosjean is on a tremendous run of form and comes to Buddh, where he finished ninth last year, on a high after his flying start in Japan and his battle with the Red Bulls last time out. “The start was fantastic; the clutch kicked in, I put my foot down and whoosh!” he said. “It was superb to go past both the Red Bulls like that and it’ll be one of my best memories of the year. I saw Mark [Webber] in my mirrors and started to pull away which was a big surprise in itself, so I was screaming “Come on baby, let’s go!” in the cockpit. After the first lap I honestly thought it was going to be my day, but that first win will come soon…”
As for teammate Kimi Raïkkönen, the Finn is 30 points behind Alonso in third place overall but just 16 clear of Lewis Hamilton. He knows the key to a strong result is Saturday: “It’s certainly a good track to go fast with a strong car in front of all the others!” he says, but in order to get himself into that position he has his work cut out for him. His last five qualifying performances have been 8-11-13-10-9, so getting nearer the front of the grid is crucial if he wants to match Grosjean and set up a strong finish to his brief career with Lotus.
Hamilton hasn’t been to the BIC podium yet. Fourth and seventh are his results in a Mercedes-powered McLaren, but he’s hoping to improve on that in a fully-fledged Silver Arrow: “The layout has a great rhythm and I love the fast turns and high speeds,” says Hamilton, who hasn’t actually been to any podium since Belgium five races ago. “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.”
Sauber not only have the only female team principal in pit lane, she also happens to be Indian, so the team will be going all out for a top result in their home race. They arrive straight from their best result of the season in Japan, where Nico Hülkenberg and Esteban Gutiérrez were sixth and seventh respectively. The German went well on his first visit to India last season and is keen to keep adding value as he looks for a top drive next year: “Last year I had a good result in India as I finished eighth, so it was great to get some points,” says the Hulk, who is in the frame for Kimi’s Lotus seat. “It is quite a nice track and one of the modern ones with some tricky sectors, especially sector two as there are a lot of corners that are combined. It is not one of my favourite circuits, but it is still nice to be driving there.” Sauber sit 17 points adrift of the other ‘local’ team, Force India, whose recent form has been catastrophic: just three points from the last seven races.
Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:25.283 = 216.338 km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:31.10.744 (av. speed 202.183 km/h)
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) gap 9.437s
3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) gap 13.217s
Fastest Lap: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 1:28.203 = 209.176 km/h on lap 60