In about 24 hours from now, the Budh International Circuit will reverberate with the high-pitched scream of 800bhp V8 engines as the free practice sessions get underway ahead of this weekend’s second Formula One India GP. I will stick my neck out and predict another Vettel and Red Bull show, given the nature of the circuit if nothing else.
Red Bull have shown the kind of pace that will set them apart at the BIC with its super-fast configuration highlighted by the 15-second flat out back straight and the double apex right hander through turns 10 and 11. With Ferrari having wind tunnel problems that has affected their preparations, I believe that the stage is nicely set up for a Red Bull domination.
As for McLaren, the only other team that has a realistic chance of spoiling a Red Bull party, the Woking team has issues, not the least Hamilton’s next season move to Mercedes. The recent races have not gone according to their script and it allowed Red Bull and Ferrari to put some distance on the constructors’ leaderboard. The British outfit seems to be also caught between developing the 2012 machine and working on the 2013 model that will be almost similar in view of minimal changes in regulations.
Whatever, with just four races (including India GP) to go this season, it is time for the front runners to keep their foot on the accelerator and not lift. The BIC presents an excellent opportunity for Vettel and Red Bull to pull further away and like I said before, they have the pace to do it.
In fact, Red Bull underwent a remarkable transformation for the second half of the season after a sluggish start. So much so that Vettel was able to make up a 40-point deficit to Alonso and get ahead. Also, with Vettel’s team-mate Webber too pulling his weight, Red Bull appear comfortably placed to complete a hat-trick of double.
One of Ferrari’s drawbacks vis-a-vis race for constructors’ title have been Massa’s inability to score points on a consistent basis. He has failed to score a point in as many as six races while Alonso flopped twice, though due to first corner incidents. As such, the Italian icon finds itself short on points and it is highly unlikely the Scuderia who trail Red Bull by 77 points, but are ahead of McLaren by just six.
Ferrari’s chief designer Nick Tombazis has admitted to his team’s problems that he referred to as “unpleasant surprises” when they discovered that the wind tunnel output did not match the race data. Thus, it has somewhat retarded the development of Alonso’s 2012 machine and at the fag end of the season, Ferrari finds itself in a catch-up mode.
Success at the BIC will also be dictated by the aero package. The set-up has to be spot on and the margin for error is all but non-existent. Given the fast and flowing configuration of the track where the average speed is about 230kmph, it demands accurate high downforce set-up to keep the car grounded but without compromising on cornering speeds. It is a balance that could well separate the winner from the rest of the pack.
From home perspective, the performance of Force India would be watched with interest. At the moment, the team is struggling to catch up with Sauber in mid-grid and unless there has been a dramatic improvement, it is unlikely that Force India would trouble the front-runners.
Force India’s boss Mallya, saddled with issues regarding his airline, is hoping that both his cars would finish among points, something they have achieved only four times this season. The team’s best driver results have been fourth place finishes by both di Resta (Singapore) and Hulkenberg (Belgium).
Further, Hulkenberg is tipped to shift to Sauber next season, and though the driver has dismissed such talk as rumour, it remains to be seen whether his equation with Force India would remain on even keel or the focus would be on di Resta. Mallya has stated his keenness to retain both the drivers for next season, but for the moment, it is rather iffy.
Under the circumstances, it will take a brave man to back Force India to land the spoils, but the fans should be happy if they can grab a spot in the 5-8 segment. Anything higher should be a bonus and something lower, par for the course.
By all accounts the GP is short on “buzz”, forcing the organizers to slash box office rates, but I doubt if such a gimmick will attract a full house. World over, the GP tracks are in the red and the only one raking in the moolah seems to be the little big man of motor racing, Ecclestone. We will never quite know the economics, but like they say, enjoy the ride while the going is good.