Indian Grand Prix Preview

Formula 1 hits India. This is certainly not something any fan would have been in a position to imagine ten years ago, and yet we’re now on the verge of the first Grand Prix on the subcontinent.

The dream has now become a reality for many thousands of organisers and circuit workers who have worked tirelessly (although in a most typically disorganised fashion!) to put the event together.

However, the event will also be tinged with sadness, as Formula 1 will have its first opportunity to pay its respects to two stars of motorsport who headed for the big race track in the sky in the last two weeks: IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon and MotoGP racer Marco Simoncelli.

But there is also plenty of racing ahead of us this weekend, so let’s get down to business and preview the Indian Grand Prix…

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The Circuit

2011 FORMULA 1 AIRTEL GRAND PRIX OF INDIABuddh International Circuit

Date: 30 October 2011 No. Laps 60
Lap Length: 5.137km Race Distance: 308.220km
Race Lap Record: Not yet established
Last Year’s Winner: N/A

Through the emergence of drivers such as Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok – as well as the presence of the Force India team – Formula 1 has built a considerable fan base in India.

Mark Webber’s view of the Buddh International Circuit

And with a potential market of over one billion local fans, it was a logical next step to stage a Grand Prix in India.

After years of preparation and planning, it all comes together at the Hermann Tilke designed 5.1-kilometre circuit located on the outskirts of Delhi.

On paper, it’s typical Tilke fare: long straights funnelling into tight corners to promote overtaking.

The two-dimensional layout doesn’t look very heart-stopping, but Tilke has taken some inspiration from his successful Turkish design to add elevation changes to the mix.

 

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Delhi Talking Points

What are the three big talking points of the Indian Grand Prix?

  • Will the event run smoothly? Like their counterparts in Korea, getting things done ahead of schedule is seemingly not a strong Indian trait. Why work efficiently and keep on top of the project when you can drown it in red tape? But the first lesson is that’s it’s never wise to lie to the international press about the progress of the construction. We all know you’re still getting the paint to dry as our preview goes to press; just hope we don’t find other skeletons in the closet…
  • Focus on the homegrown stars? In contrast to some of the new circuits that have cropped up, much of the groundwork for Delhi’s first race comes from within the sport, in the form of the Force India team and two local drivers in the pits. Force India is on track for its best-ever championship season, while Narain Karthikeyan will make his return to the starting grid after he was dropped mid-season in favour of Daniel Ricciardo. Sadly for the locals, Karun Chandhok won’t be given the Team Lotus race seat he coveted, although he will appear in Friday practice.
  • How will Wheldon and Simoncelli be remembered? The world’s media has been awash with tributes and criticism (in equal measures, sadly) following the tragic deaths of Wheldon and Simoncelli in the last two weeks. Their deaths were truly heartbreaking, and the impact will be felt for some time. It must never be forgotten that motorsport can never be truly risk-free. F1 has been a little cagey about how it will choose to mark their passing, but there is talk of leaving the front row of the grid empty, which we think would be a beautiful touch.
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
     
Geoff  
Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia

The Buddh International Circuit looks to be a typical Hermann Tilke cookie-cutter special: straight, chicane, straight, hairpin, fiddly inner loop, repeat.

We’ve seen these themes at too many of his circuits, and sadly the formula is on display again in India. Can it distinguish itself from other Tilkedromes? Without wishing to judge it before it’s even staged a race, it’s becoming impossible to ignore the sameness in modern circuit design today. Do we blame Tilke’s lack of imagination, or the sport’s safety and commercial restrictions that seemingly constrain him.

Ironically, it will matter little if the circuit delivers us an action-packed maiden race. We’ll know on Sunday afternoon.”

Henry 
Henry, Richard’s F1 reader, Ireland

“We all know the organisation has been shambolic to say the least, but if the event comes off, then this can only be good news for India.

“And whatever the thoughts are over the circuit design, one of the most interesting aspects of this weekend will be the size and enthusiasm of the crowds.

No doubt there’s a huge commercial interest resting in the success of a venture to the subcontinent. Certainly there’s every reason to suggest that a healthy crowd will be on hand to lend its support and patriotism, and there’s little doubt that the event will attract far bigger crowds than we’ve seen in other new Asian circuits that have hit the landscape, such as Bahrain, Turkey and Korea. Can F1 build itself a happy, long-term home on the subcontinent? I certainly hope so.”

Joseph
Joseph, Richard’s F1 Technical Correspondent

“With both championship titles already decided, from here on in, its purely for glory. McLaren wants desperately to show that they have a better package and go into the off-season knowing they can beat Red Bull, who in turn will probably turn everything to 11 to hold them off and extend their lead as much as possible. Ferrari desperate would love a win before the end of the season, and wouldn’t the Tifosi love that!

“The track is a bit of an unknown, as the drivers won’t get any track time until Friday. From all reports, it will be a fast circuit. What we don’t know is whether the circuit will be dusty, abrasive, slick, etc.

“I think all the teams will bring their A-game, with many perhaps doing set up and development for next year. The race should be exciting to watch, and smart money will be on Red Bull with their pure speed and McLaren with their ability to develop and set up on the run. The circuit should be warmer than Korea or Japan, and it would be interesting to see how the track temperature and the track affects the degradation of the Pirellis. Race on!”

 

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The Form Guide

With the 2011 championship having been sewn up by one man and one team, will the Indian Grand Prix give a burst of fresh air to the season?

For the first time since the Chinese Grand Prix in 2004, we’re coming to a brand new circuit with the championship title already sorted. Perhaps this will allow us to enjoy the race weekend without concentrating too much on how this affects the minor placings in the championship standings? In the end, it will be a fascinating maiden race at Delhi.

If your championship position is a little more secure at the top of the pile, the final races in 2011 will be about starting the donkey work for the 2012 season. Mercedes GP and Ferrari are already known to have brought and tested components for their 2012 cars to the last few rounds.

Red Bull's Neel Jani is the only driver to have piloted an F1 car on the circuit, when it was opened last weekend Further down the order when the budgets are smaller and the competition is much tighter, these teams don’t have this luxury. Still tied up in their own respective squabbles in the championship, they’re still flat-out developing their 2011 cars to give themselves an advantage over their current rivals.

But there’s still plenty of pride to play for and three more races to be won before the season comes to a close.

McLaren’s recent improvement has seen it close the gap to Red Bull in the last few rounds. Jenson Button narrowly missed pole but went on to win at Suzuka; Lewis Hamilton claimed pole, but didn’t have the pace to challenge Sebastian Vettel for the win at Korea. Can they maintain their late-season charge?

With Red Bull Racing having signed off on both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships, the cherry on the cake will be getting Mark Webber to finish runner-up in the Drivers’ Championship. While there’s been suggestions that the team would like this to happen, let’s hope this doesn’t occur at the expense of crass team orders,

With Pirelli being conservative its tyre selection this weekend (opting for its ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ compounds), Ferrari will be hoping for scorching conditions this weekend, or it will be consigned to the minor points’ placings given the team’s history of being unable to warm the tyres in 2011.

With the Delhi circuit rumoured to be the second-fastest (in terms of average speed) on the calendar and Mercedes GP’s excellent straight-line pace at Spa and Monza, the silver cars could be in a shout for a surprise first podium in 2011. The battle between Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher has been really fascinating to watch; despite the variations in their form in qualifying and race conditions, the pair are still evenly matched in the points tally.

The midfield scrap between Renault, Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso is delicately placed.

One could argue that Renault’s fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship is secure, but it’s hardly deserved on account of the team’s appalling second half of the season.

Force India is best-placed to eat into Renault’s points’ margin, but it fell off the wagon at the end of the Korean Grand Prix and that allowed Toro Rosso to swoop with the team’s best points haul of the season. The Italian team has benefited enormously from the latest updates fitted to the STR6, turning it into a rapid racer at the hands of Alguersuari and Buemi.

Predicting a winner before any of the cars has turned a wheel would be very dangerous indeed. Certainly our years of watching Formula 1 means making predictions is much harder at brand-new tracks, which the drivers will need to master very quickly.

We can’t wait.

[Images via Hannah Corbett, LAT, Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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