2012 Indian Grand Prix preview – Crunch Time

October 25, 2012 3:53 pm

Formula One is relentless – even more so as we enter the crucial championship-deciding races of the second half of the season. This weekend the Buddh International Circuit takes its turn as the battle ground between championship rivals Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel as they struggle for supremacy in the 2012 Formula One season.

After winning the inaugural Indian race last season, and dominating the Korean Grand Prix two weeks ago, Sebastian Vettel arrives in India as the new championship leader with just four races remaining. The World Championship will not be decided this weekend, but it may be a tipping point if Fernando Alonso and Ferrari fail to keep pace with their Red Bull rivals.

The 2011 Indian GP podium. Button, Vettel and Alonso shared the plaudits yet again.

Formula One has flourished on the Asian subcontinent in recent times, with the Malaysian, Singapore and Indian Grand Prix’ drawing huge crowds as their nations embrace the arrival of a traditionally-European sport in their midst. It’s quite fitting therefore that the newest of these venues should then provide the backdrop for what could be a pivotal race, with a 130,000 strong vocal Indian crowd.

Red Bull have crushed their rivals in the last three races and Vettel is on a run of success that threatens to kill dead the prospect of an equal showdown between himself and Alonso. However, the Milton Keynes-based team have learnt not to rest on their laurels and will be employing the same tactics and operational procedure that so cruelly wrenched the title from Alonso’s grasp back in 2010. For their part, Ferrari will be giving their all to re-pass Vettel and ensure it’s the Spaniard that carries the coveted number 1 into the 2013 season.

Vettel seems relaxed enough ahead of the race, indicative perhaps of the frightening speed exhibited by his Red Bull car since their aerodynamic upgrade propelled them ahead of their rivals at the Singapore Grand Prix. ‘There is a lot of elevation change around the lap which adds to the fun, from as much as 8 percent downhill and up to 10 percent uphill; it’s like a roller coaster!’ the German laughed in a pre-race interview with the official F1 website.  ‘It really has emerged as one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar for the drivers.’

Despite the hype surrounding the two main protagonists in the title fight, there is a third man with a slim chance of snatching the crown from both Alonso and Vettel; the ubiquitous Kimi Raikkonen. Without fuss, the Finn has characteristically kept himself in play despite driving an inferior Lotus car by scoring points in all but one race this year. Indeed, he is the only driver to have completed every lap of the 2012 season so far. Should the Ferrari and Red Bull duo trip over one another Raikkonen could bring himself into serious contention in a repeat of his 2007 triumph. But he really will need a helping hand of that nature; his car isn’t quick enough to win in a straight fight. Nevertheless, Kimi hopes improvements introduced to the Lotus in Korea can benefit him even more in India. ‘We’ll have some new things on the car and it will be our second time with the new exhaust system so hopefully we can make more gains with our pace. India should also be pretty hot which should suit us. I’m looking forward to it.’

Mclaren have again entered a barren patch in terms of results; a bad weekend in Japan was followed by a crash for Jenson Button in Korea and a poor showing from Lewis Hamilton. Although both remain in with a mathematical chance of landing the World Championship, they are realistic that it would need a dramatic change in fortune, determined instead just to enjoy the remaining races. ‘I think we can have a good weekend there – I’m already looking forward to it.’ claimed Button, while Hamilton hopes he can improve on his disastrous weekend in India last year. ‘I love India – the people, the colour, the noise, the spectacle, the chaos: it’s an intense and vibrant country, with some of the most enthusiastic and friendliest people we meet all year.’ Hamilton faces just four more races with the Mclaren team before he jumps ship to Mercedes for 2013.

Will Alonso be forced to watch yet another Vettel victory dance?

Mercedes themselves are currently mired in the midfield battle with Williams, Sauber and Force India all fighting it out for the 4th place in the constructors championship. ‘For me the second Formula One Grand Prix of India certainly will be a very special race.’ claimed Monish Kaltenborn, the newly promoted female team principal of the Sauber team, in an interview with the F1 website. ‘Going to my home country, not for private but for business reasons, and for the team to race in front of my fellow countrymen is exciting. This is the emotional part of it. Looking at it in a more sporting way, it is clear we want to score a lot of points, be it in India or at any of the remaining four races. Technically the track in Greater Noida should not be a problem for the C31, but it isn’t our favourite either. We have to stay focused and maximise our potential there.’

In fact, even the bottom three teams of Caterham, Marussia and HRT have something to fight about. 10th place in the intra-team battle is vital for the TV money provided by the FIA to the team claiming the important spot.

Whether it’s Ferrari, Williams or Caterham; everyone on the grid is facing a crucial weekend. But then again, this is Formula One. It’s never been otherwise.

Anthony French

 

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