After Sebastian Vettel’s strategic race win at the last round in Japan, F1 heads to India for round 16 of the 2013 season.
The German could take his fourth consecutive title crown at the Buddh International Circuit. All he needs to do is finish fifth or higher.
Despite being a circuit that is well loved in the F1 paddock, it won’t make an appearance on the 2014 calendar after organizers decided that it wasn’t worth hosting a race late next season and then moving to an early slot in 2015.
India hosted its first race in 2011 and has only been won by one man: Sebastian Vettel. With his domination looking to sweep the race once again, it will take something unexpected to stop him from taking the title.
The track is a challenging one with undulating corners, long straights and plenty of high speed bends. A lap of the 3.192 mile circuit kick starts on a medium length start-finish straight. The pit lane exit is to the right and feeds on to the track just before turn one. The first corner is a third gear right-hander that is a strong overtaking opportunity due to the heavy braking zone.
Turn two is a flat-out left that leads on to the tight, second gear right-hand hairpin that leads on to the long second straight. This is where the first of two DRS zones are positioned – the other being on the pit straight. Cars reach up to 195mph on the back straight before funnelling in to the second gear right that is turn four.
The entries to the third and fourth corners are very wide, opening up a number of different lines. The fourth turn – a fourth gear right taken at 62mph – is another strong overtaking possibility due to the heavy braking zone. A good exit is vital for the run on to the following straight, which leads to the fifth gear turn five and the start of the second sector.
Turn six and seven make up a left-right chicane that is tricky to get right. Both apexes are taken in fourth gear before a short burst of speed that leads to another high-speed chicane – this time a right-left taken in fifth gear.
Turn 10 is a long fourth gear hairpin and is widely regarded as the most challenging corner on the track. Cars spend 8.2 seconds corning the double apex of turn 10 and 11 – speed builds up through the right-hander before tightening on the exit and through the fast kink of turn 12.
After the challenge of the second sector, the third sector begins with a fast fourth gear left that heads uphill. Here drivers can experience the maximum lateral force generated over the lap: 3.8G. Turn 14 is taken in fifth gear before a short straight.
Turn 15 is a downhill right-hand hairpin taken in third gear and is the penultimate corner on the circuit. The final turn is a second gear left-hand hairpin that heads on to the pit straight. The pit lane entry is to the right and runs through the run-off area.
The track is a tough one to master on one lap and requires a good rhythm, particularly in the flowing middle sector that has several fast direction changes and gives drivers very little time to recover.
The drivers do tend to enjoy tackling the Buddh International Circuit and love visiting India with its bright and vibrant culture. Pirelli will bring the soft and medium compound tires to the race weekend, but the track surface is non-abrasive (like Korea) which puts less energy through the tires.
Despite the hot temperatures and high cornering speed – nine of the ten corners between turn five and 15 are taken between 125 and 155mph – tire wear is relatively low and drivers often struggle for tire temperature on Saturday afternoon.
With its high speed bends and technical corners, the track is certainly Red Bull territory. Sebastian Vettel has led every lap at the Indian Grand Prix and could well be on course to continue that record.
However with the low tire wear and characteristics of the Greater Noida based track, Mercedes could challenge once again – particularly in qualifying. Lotus and Ferrari can’t be discounted either, particularly the former on race day if their Saturday pace improves.
Meanwhile the battle for sixth place in the constructor’s standings is heating up. Sauber head to India with Force India – who currently occupies the sixth spot – firmly in their sights. Toro Rosso is looking to close in on them both during the final few races too.
Marussia and Caterham continue to squabble for 10th in the team’s championship. Caterham will be hoping for some unpredictability and plenty of retirements if they want to score a 13th place finish, which will move them ahead of their rivals.
Can Vettel take his fourth consecutive world title? It looks very likely, but as we know in F1: Anything can happen.