Mark Webber, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2011

Will Red Bull ease Webber’s path to victory?

2011 Indian GP pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2011
Mark Webber, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2011

Heading into the Indian Grand Prix weekend Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said the team were keen to get Mark Webber into second in the drivers’ championship.

He indicated they could use team orders to achieve it – and with both cars on the front row they may get the opportunity to during the race.

But they will have to keep the fast-starting Ferraris behind first.

The start

The Buddh International Circuit has proved very slippery off-line, which could make for an interesting start. The racing line cuts across the circuit, giving neither side of the grid much of an advantage.

Vettel said: “I don?t know if being on the left or the right side of the track, is really an advantage or not. There’s not one side that seems to be the clean side, as we tend to run down the middle.”

Alonso added: “I don?t think there?s much of a difference between the two vertical lines of the grid because the ideal line on the start-finish straight goes down the middle, so both sides are quite dirty. In fact the dirt off the racing line could be a problem for overtaking with whoever initiates the move having to give it everything without hesitating.”

Alonso starts third behind Webber and on past form you have to fancy his chances of at least getting past Webber at the start. Webber has lost more places on lap one than any other driver this year apart from Bruno Senna – a net 21. Whereas Alonso has picked up nine places in the last five races.

Not for the first time this year, Lewis Hamilton finds himself further back than he should be after qualifying didn’t go entirely to plan.

He shares row three with Felipe Massa – a driver he’s had enough run-ins with already. His sights will be set on moving through the field, which is where he’s come a cropper several times in races this year. But Korea showed he’s lost none of his speed and tenacity when he has a trouble-free race.

Strategy

The Red Bull drivers were clearly able to get better performance out of the hard tyres than their rivals in practice.

However the soft tyres are so much quicker – perhaps as much as two seconds per lap – that all the drivers are likely to avoid using the hard tyres for as long as possible. Expect to see lots of late pit stops for the mandatory switch to the alternative tyre compound.

Hamilton was so keen to preserve as much life in his soft tyres as he could that he aborted his last qualifying run to avoid having to do another lap on them.

This is particularly bad news for Massa, who damaged one of his sets of soft tyres when he crashed in qualifying: “Now I find myself with one less set of softs,” he said.

He also damaged his front wing in the crash: “It was the new one, which we had here for the first time and it delivered a bit extra in terms of performance.”

Massa will have to revert to the front wing he used at the beginning of this morning’s practice session, which at times displayed a severe amount of vibration. It isn’t necessarily the case this will happen again in the race – the phenomenon may have been related to ride height or some other set-up variable – but it’s worth keeping an eye out for.

It’s doubtful we’ll see drivers opting to start on the hard tyre, unless they gamble on an early safety car period allowing them to get them out of the way early. This worked for some drivers at Abu Dhabi last year.

DRS

With two DRS zones, drivers expect overtaking will be possible at the track. Hamilton said: “There will be opportunities to overtake: it?s a high-downforce circuit and, although it?ll be very hard to follow other cars closely, the double DRS zone should make it a bit easier.”

However not all the drivers think this will play to their car’s strengths. Paul di Resta lost several places in the DRS zone in Korea. He said: “It won?t be an easy race with the DRS zones being so effective and likely to result in lots of overtaking.”

The Toro Rossos should be strong on the straights again, as they were in Korea, having topped the speed trap in qualifying.

However the down-side of venturing off-line to make a pass is how dusty the track is. Several drivers have had spins and crashes during practice.

How do you expect the Indian Grand Prix to unfold? Will Red Bull try to ease Webber’s way to second in the championship? Can Alonso challenge them for victory? Have your say in the comments.

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images