Split strategies to add spice to Indian Grand Prix

2013 Indian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Buddh International Circuit, 2013The previous two Indian Grands Prix were rather drab and processional affairs.

But the gulf in performance between the soft and medium tyres is likely to create a bit more variety in tomorrow’s race.

Whether that is a sufficient approximation for genuine racing depends on your taste. If nothing else, the Buddh International Circuit stands a decent chance of finally seeing someone other than Sebastian Vettel lead a lap as he’s likely to be in the pits within the first ten laps.

The start

Red Bull’s pace has been extremely strong this weekend – they’re Red Bull “in another world” according to Lewis Hamilton – but there is always the possibility Vettel could have a repeat of the poor start he had in Japan.

“We just got surprised by how low the grip was,” said Vettel about his poor getaway in Japan, which would have cost him two places had Hamilton not damaged his tyre while passing the Red Bull. “I think we?ve been a bit too aggressive, too much wheel-slip and the guys behind us had a better start.”

“For sure, we?ll try to do better tomorrow ?ǣ but quite confident. I think the starts we had before that were pretty good. Korea, I had a very good start, so I think we know how to do it, we just need to get it all right.”

It may be a short tun to turn one – just 230 metres – but it is wide, so any sluggishness from the pole sitter is likely to be punished. The drivers who have chosen to start on medium tyres may also be vulnerable, including Mark Webber (who is not known for making great starts) and Fernando Alonso (who is).

The first sector is similar to that at Korea, with several long straights leading into slow corners, which invites slipstreaming and position-swapping.


Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Buddh International Circuit, 2013In an effort to liven up the rather stale races seen at this track before, Pirelli have brought substantially softer tyres this year. This led four out of the ten drivers in Q3 to qualify and start the race on the medium compound instead of the soft.

Alonso was one of them: “Using the soft tyres in Q3 we could have aspired to a better starting position, while the mediums would mean running a race with no traffic, because if the softer compound follows the pattern we have seen so far, then those starting with it will have to stop very early, around lap six.”

“This would put them behind a group of cars that will stay out until lap 30. It?s true that at some point, I too will have to fit the Softs, which will signal a more difficult moment and we must be prepared for that. On Friday, I did 15 or 16 laps on them, while today just three and that?s why it?s absolutely impossible to say how it will go tomorrow. Only after the chequered flag will we know which was the right choice.”

The race looks likely to be similar to what we saw in China where the same tyre combination was used, and drivers mostly ran brief stints on the soft tyres.

A significant factor for the front running drivers on soft tyres will be how many of the drivers outside the top ten also start on softs. If several of them do they will also have to pit early, leaving space for the front runners to come out in when they make their pit stops. But if they run for longer on mediums those who start the race on soft tyres could be stuck in traffic early on.

Massa, who lines up fifth, said he preferred to start on the softer tyres “because at the Nurburgring, I had made a choice that didn?t pay off” when he started on the harder tyres and spun out early on. “I will try to pass Webber at the start,” he added, “hoping to profit from the fact he is on medium tyres”.

Those who will start on the medium tyres – Webber, Alonso and the McLarens – will likely face the tricky decision of when to put the softs on at the end of the race. As Vettel discovered in China, this is a tough call to get right. With the benefit of hindsight he probably could have pitted a lap or two earlier, giving him more time to catch and pass Hamilton, who he finished the race two tenths of a second behind.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Buddh International Circuit, 2013One of the most interesting storylines in tomorrow’s race will be how Romain Grosjean can recover from his disappointing Q1 exit which has left him 17th on the grid. The Lotus is one of the kindest cars on its tyres which will give them some strategic flexibility as trackside operations director Alam Permane notes:

“He?s starting a long way out of position and will need a strong charge through the field to make it into the top ten, but we?re extremely confident that he?ll be able to do so. How far into the points he can progress will depend on the start and our management of the tyres.”

But Grosjean will also have to display the kind of patience and judgement in traffic that has all too often been conspicuously absent from his racecraft. Particularly as he had the lowest top speed through the speed trap and at two of the three intermediate timing points during qualifying.

What may count in his favour is the extended DRS zone, which is a further 160 metres longer than last year.

The championship situation

As things stand, Vettel looks very likely to win the drivers’ championship in the race and Red Bull will probably sew up the constructors’ title. Here’s what they have to do to clinch the trophies:

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’25.943 1’24.568 (-1.375) 1’24.119 (-0.449)
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’25.833 1’25.304 (-0.529) 1’24.871 (-0.433)
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’25.802 1’25.259 (-0.543) 1’24.941 (-0.318)
4 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’25.665 1’25.097 (-0.568) 1’25.047 (-0.050)
5 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’25.793 1’25.389 (-0.404) 1’25.201 (-0.188)
6 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’25.819 1’25.191 (-0.628) 1’25.248 (+0.057)
7 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1’25.883 1’25.339 (-0.544) 1’25.334 (-0.005)
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’25.934 1’24.885 (-1.049) 1’25.826 (+0.941)
9 Sergio Perez McLaren 1’26.107 1’25.365 (-0.742) 1’26.153 (+0.788)
10 Jenson Button McLaren 1’25.574 1’25.458 (-0.116) 1’26.487 (+1.029)
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’25.673 1’25.519 (-0.154)
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1’25.908 1’25.711 (-0.197)
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 1’26.164 1’25.740 (-0.424)
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’26.155 1’25.798 (-0.357)
15 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’26.178 1’26.134 (-0.044)
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’26.057 1’26.336 (+0.279)
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’26.577
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’26.842
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’26.970
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1’27.105
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1’27.487
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1’28.138

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 41.418 (1) 21.875 (1) 20.826 (1)
Nico Rosberg 41.617 (4) 22.199 (4) 21.055 (4)
Lewis Hamilton 41.660 (6) 22.198 (3) 20.893 (3)
Mark Webber 41.637 (5) 22.109 (2) 21.058 (5)
Felipe Massa 41.581 (2) 22.370 (7) 21.097 (7)
Kimi Raikkonen 41.737 (9) 22.414 (8) 20.858 (2)
Nico Hulkenberg 41.734 (8) 22.357 (6) 21.221 (11)
Fernando Alonso 41.604 (3) 22.213 (5) 21.068 (6)
Sergio Perez 41.715 (7) 22.451 (10) 21.170 (9)
Jenson Button 41.757 (10) 22.466 (11) 21.193 (10)
Daniel Ricciardo 41.871 (13) 22.432 (9) 21.155 (8)
Paul di Resta 41.783 (11) 22.532 (14) 21.265 (12)
Adrian Sutil 41.830 (12) 22.631 (16) 21.279 (14)
Jean-Eric Vergne 42.006 (14) 22.487 (13) 21.267 (13)
Valtteri Bottas 42.162 (16) 22.468 (12) 21.303 (15)
Esteban Gutierrez 42.057 (15) 22.584 (15) 21.319 (16)
Romain Grosjean 42.277 (18) 22.767 (17) 21.341 (17)
Pastor Maldonado 42.254 (17) 22.822 (18) 21.570 (19)
Jules Bianchi 42.395 (19) 22.960 (19) 21.615 (20)
Giedo van der Garde 42.551 (20) 22.993 (20) 21.561 (18)
Charles Pic 42.563 (21) 23.249 (22) 21.640 (21)
Max Chilton 42.865 (22) 23.103 (21) 21.794 (22)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 321.0 (199.5)
2 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 319.9 (198.8) -1.1
3 Paul di Resta Force India 319.0 (198.2) -2.0
4 Jenson Button McLaren 318.9 (198.2) -2.1
5 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 318.9 (198.2) -2.1
6 Sergio Perez McLaren 318.6 (198.0) -2.4
7 Adrian Sutil Force India 317.0 (197.0) -4.0
8 Mark Webber Red Bull 316.1 (196.4) -4.9
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 315.9 (196.3) -5.1
10 Felipe Massa Ferrari 315.6 (196.1) -5.4
11 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 315.6 (196.1) -5.4
12 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 315.5 (196.0) -5.5
13 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 314.4 (195.4) -6.6
14 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 313.7 (194.9) -7.3
15 Pastor Maldonado Williams 313.4 (194.7) -7.6
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 313.4 (194.7) -7.6
17 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 312.6 (194.2) -8.4
18 Max Chilton Marussia 312.2 (194.0) -8.8
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 312.1 (193.9) -8.9
20 Charles Pic Caterham 311.5 (193.6) -9.5
21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 311.4 (193.5) -9.6
22 Romain Grosjean Lotus 310.8 (193.1) -10.2

Over to you

Will those who start on the soft or medium tyres hold the upper hand? How many places will Grosjean make up from 17th?

And is there any realistic chance Vettel and Red Bull won’t wrap up the titles? Share your views on the Indian Grand Prix in the comments.

2013 Indian Grand Prix

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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Lotus/LAT

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