Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2012

Fourth win beckons for Vettel but start is crucial

2012 Indian Grand Prix pre-race analysisPosted on Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2012The second Indian Grand Prix will begin the way the last one did – with two Red Bulls on the front row, led by Sebastian Vettel.

The world champion led every lap on his way to a straightforward victory last year. A repeat of that performance will net his fourth win in a row and bring him even closer to a third world championship.

The start

Red Bull have routed the opposition so far this weekend. The last major obstacle which stands in their way of converting a one-two start into a one-two finish could be the run through the first sector at the start of tomorrow’s race.

Like its predecessors the RB8 produces excellent downforce but is quite high on drag. The result is a car which is bottom of the speed trap this weekend, save for Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus (see below).

The RB8s are most vulnerable in the first sector of the lap – Lewis Hamilton was three-tenths of a second quicker than Vettel though their in qualifying.

Last year Red Bull’s front row lock-out was breached on the 1km straight leading to turn four. And the damage might have been greater had Fernando Alonso, who started third on the grid, not run wide at the first corner.

Red Bull’s rivals know their best chance of defeating them is to get in front of them at the start and prevent them from controlling the race. Judicious use of KERS in the opening corners will be all-important. McLaren are best-placed to capitalise on any mistake by the RB8 drivers in the opening corners, and will no doubt be formulating a plan of attack.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Buddh International Circuit, 2012But they won’t be the only ones on the prowl at the start – Alonso has to get away well to at least minimise the damage Vettel can do to his championship hopes here: “We must try and make up places on the first lap and try to put pressure on our main rivals, ensuring they don?t have an easy race,” he said.

“There are 60 laps to work with and we will need to tackle each one as if it?s qualifying, by attacking.”

Meanwhile Hamilton believes that he will be able to risk more at the start than his rivals: “At the start tomorrow, I feel I have a lot less to lose than Sebastian in front of me, so I?ll certainly be pushing a bit. “Seb has more to worry about than I do, and, if I can get up with the two Red Bulls, I?d love to take a win”.

“We have the race pace to be able to stay with the Red Bulls, so as I say a win is definitely possible,” he added.

Strategy

The vast majority of drivers used two-stop strategies in last year’s race. But Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery believes single stops will be the preferred option this year: “The tyre wear is looking good on both compounds, with plenty of consistency from both the hard and the soft rubber. So from what we can see so far, we think most of the teams will go for a one-stop strategy.”

Throughout last season – the first with Pirelli’s designed-to-degrade tyres – not a single race was won with a one-stop strategy. But it’s already happened three times this year (in Monaco, Belgium and Singapore) and looks likely to happen here as well.

Friday practice showed drivers were easily able to complete 20 laps without running into tyre trouble.

However the timing of the pit stop will remain important from a strategic point of view. Overtaking proved difficult here last year, though the extending of the DRS zone may make it easier this time.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’26.387 1’25.435 (-0.952) 1’25.283 (-0.152)
2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’26.744 1’25.610 (-1.134) 1’25.327 (-0.283)
3 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’26.516 1’25.816 (-0.700) 1’25.544 (-0.272)
4 Jenson Button McLaren 1’26.564 1’25.467 (-1.097) 1’25.659 (+0.192)
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’26.829 1’25.834 (-0.995) 1’25.773 (-0.061)
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’26.939 1’26.111 (-0.828) 1’25.857 (-0.254)
7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’26.740 1’26.101 (-0.639) 1’26.236 (+0.135)
8 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’27.179 1’26.076 (-1.103) 1’26.360 (+0.284)
9 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’26.048 1’25.983 (-0.065) 1’26.713 (+0.730)
10 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’26.458 1’25.976 (-0.482)
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’26.897 1’26.136 (-0.761)
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’27.185 1’26.241 (-0.944)
13 Bruno Senna Williams 1’26.851 1’26.331 (-0.520)
14 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’27.482 1’26.574 (-0.908)
15 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’27.006 1’26.777 (-0.229)
16 Paul di Resta Force India 1’27.462 1’26.989 (-0.473)
17 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’27.517 1’27.219 (-0.298)
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’27.525
19 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’28.756
20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’29.500
21 Timo Glock Marussia 1’29.613
22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’30.592
23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’30.593
24 Charles Pic Marussia 1’30.662

Qualifying showed up another downside to the ‘top ten tyre rule’, which forces drivers in Q3 to start the race on the tyres they set their fastest time on.

Nico Rosberg found he was able to extract much better pace from the soft tyre after running it for a couple of laps. This served him will in Q2, but doing the same in Q3 was out of the question as the team did not wish to start the race on tyres that had done several laps

“After Q2, it was clear that seventh place was the maximum we could achieve with Nico, and his pace had been strongest on used tyres,” explained Ross Brawn.

“However, we preferred not to go into the race on a set of used soft tyres which had already completed up to ten laps, as this would limit our strategic options. With a view to tomorrow, we therefore decided not to run in Q3 which will give us the choice of a fresh set of either tyre for our opening stint.”

Jenson Button was in a similar situation, which is why he was not able to set a quicker lap time in Q3 than in Q2.

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 41.708 (6) 22.454 (2) 21.115 (1)
Mark Webber 41.819 (8) 22.356 (1) 21.152 (2)
Lewis Hamilton 41.430 (1) 22.655 (6) 21.271 (4)
Jenson Button 41.599 (3) 22.551 (3) 21.278 (6)
Fernando Alonso 41.693 (5) 22.662 (7) 21.271 (4)
Felipe Massa 41.568 (2) 22.863 (14) 21.373 (7)
Kimi Raikkonen 41.983 (12) 22.758 (11) 21.268 (3)
Sergio Perez 41.887 (11) 22.751 (10) 21.427 (9)
Pastor Maldonado 41.875 (10) 22.589 (4) 21.417 (8)
Nico Rosberg 41.775 (7) 22.677 (8) 21.456 (11)
Romain Grosjean 41.659 (4) 22.748 (9) 21.488 (12)
Nico Hulkenberg 41.851 (9) 22.812 (12) 21.578 (14)
Bruno Senna 42.121 (14) 22.651 (5) 21.438 (10)
Michael Schumacher 42.145 (15) 22.841 (13) 21.502 (13)
Daniel Ricciardo 42.025 (13) 23.034 (15) 21.617 (15)
Paul di Resta 42.171 (16) 23.130 (17) 21.642 (16)
Kamui Kobayashi 42.306 (17) 23.107 (16) 21.690 (17)
Jean-Eric Vergne 42.370 (18) 23.197 (18) 21.851 (18)
Vitaly Petrov 42.659 (20) 23.876 (19) 22.221 (20)
Heikki Kovalainen 42.627 (19) 24.108 (21) 22.229 (21)
Timo Glock 43.198 (21) 23.967 (20) 22.078 (19)
Pedro de la Rosa 43.210 (22) 24.575 (24) 22.732 (23)
Narain Karthikeyan 43.235 (23) 24.486 (23) 22.764 (24)
Charles Pic 43.599 (24) 24.228 (22) 22.533 (22)

Ferrari believe a row two start was possible as technical director Pat Fry explained: “We were hoping to at least get our cars onto the second row, but we did not hit our target, even if we did get close. The result reflects our current potential, but in order to be where we wanted and where we were capable of being meant we needed to be perfect today and we weren?t.”

Bruno Senna also thought he should have qualified better: “I made a mistake on my lap which is disappointing because I would have been in the top 10 if that hadn?t happened. We showed good pace in this morning?s practice and in Q1 as well as a clear improvement over the last couple of races so things are going in the right direction.”

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 323.2 (200.8)
2 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 322.8 (200.6) -0.4
3 Sergio Perez Sauber 321.3 (199.6) -1.9
4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 319.9 (198.8) -3.3
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 319.8 (198.7) -3.4
6 Pastor Maldonado Williams 319.0 (198.2) -4.2
7 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 318.6 (198.0) -4.6
8 Bruno Senna Williams 318.5 (197.9) -4.7
9 Jenson Button McLaren 318.3 (197.8) -4.9
10 Paul di Resta Force India 318.3 (197.8) -4.9
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 318.3 (197.8) -4.9
12 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 318.1 (197.7) -5.1
13 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 317.4 (197.2) -5.8
14 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 317.0 (197.0) -6.2
15 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 316.1 (196.4) -7.1
16 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 315.6 (196.1) -7.6
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus 315.1 (195.8) -8.1
18 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 313.9 (195.0) -9.3
19 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 313.8 (195.0) -9.4
20 Charles Pic Marussia 313.1 (194.6) -10.1
21 Timo Glock Marussia 312.8 (194.4) -10.4
22 Mark Webber Red Bull 311.8 (193.7) -11.4
23 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 311.7 (193.7) -11.5
24 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 310.4 (192.9) -12.8

Over to you

Are you expecting a Red Bull one-two again tomorrow? Will McLaren or Ferrari be able to disrupt their rivals’ race?

Share your views on the Indian Grand Prix in the comments.

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo