Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post Race Analysis: 2012 Airtel Indian Grand Prix

The second year of the Indian Grand Prix saw many changes to the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida. With better facilities near the grand stands , better media rooms and more importantly no stray dogs running around while the cars got on to the track. 

I chose my seats at the Classic West Stand having sat the Classic East 2 for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. The West Stand overlooked the penultimate corner of the circuit (turn 15) and gave breath-taking views of drivers finding the limits and trying different lines on Friday practice ; the thoroughbred nature of a Formula One car at turns 10 ,11 and at the fast chicane of 13 and 14 during qualifying and many overtaking maneuvers at the end of the DRS zone at turn 4 during the race.

Fans from all around the world came to enjoy this unique circuit.
 A Renault supporter from 05,06?

Sebastian Vettel fans all the way from Dresden!

During my loitering around and exploring the various merchandising areas of the circuit between sessions , I did manage to covertly sneak into the Main Grandstand area for FP2 only to be thoroughly disappointed and bored with the lack of action those seats offer. Personal preference probably, but I've always said that Formula One cars are a thing of beauty and elegance in the corners, not so much on the straights.

Around the circuit the usual chaos did loom. Starting with numerous guards and officials whistling maniacally as you entered the circuit, supposedly with the intent of "guiding" you , giving you a feeling of being caged in a zoo. Tight security checks are justified in India , but some instances were just outright ostentatious. I was initially denied entry to the stand as I carried a flag due it having a plastic stick which was a "security concern", despite buying it from one of the merchandising shops at the circuit itself. It took some frantic convincing and arguing for the track officials to see through their lunacy , an unsettling experience to say the least.
Furthermore ,you were only allowed to exit and re-enter your stand once which was absolutely ridiculous on Friday and Saturday considering that were ample time between sessions and that the main F1 village which had most of fan events going on, could only be accessed by exiting your zone in the first place.
At the main grandstand, I encountered a person in his late 70's trying desperately hard to convince a security personal to allow him to carry water to his seat. He begged and tried to reason with the guard that he would have to traverse three flights of stairs every time he was thirsty and all this ,despite paying 30,000 Rupees for the "comfort" a watching a race at the prime location. Overly persnickety,utterly bothersome and an absolute disregard for comfort, if they do indeed plan to keep the attendance figures up in the coming years they severely need to brush things up in terms of crowd satisfaction and general hospitality.To end up disgruntling a die hard fan like myself, someone who pledges to the passion of the sport and overlooks these teething issues it'll be hard for them to keep the casual first comer hooked.

Despite being at the back of the grid, HRT did win many hearts.
But to give credit where it is due, the track itself was fantastic.No longer was it a sand dune off the racing line, the surrounding areas had plush green grass and the marshals and volunteers were did an fantastic job. Ultimately, considering that the Indian Grand Prix is probably the only race on the calendar not backed by the host nation's government and an entirely private venture , 
the Jaypee Group has to be appreciated in taking this huge risk and getting the sport for us fans to enjoy in India. Whatever people say, this WILL contribute to the rise of motor sport in the country. With a population of over a billion people, the odds surely favor finding a Formula One super star here in this country.
The Red Bull's were on another level in all sessions as Force India looked to impress at their home circuit

Fans from all over turned up in good numbers on Sunday

Race Analysis:

Kimi probably telling Heikki how large his vodka shot was last night

Coming into the race , Fernando Alonso had relinquished his championship lead to Sebastian Vettel for the first time since his win at Valencia. It does seem a long time ago and just goes to show how quickly things can change in Formula One. In that context this season is not over yet, despite the current Red Bull blitz.

As the lights went off on Sunday , for a change Mark Webber got a better start than him team-mate,but Seb neatly chopped across enough for Mark to get on the defensive and brake earlier into Turn 1. Hamilton got his self confessed usual bad start which his team-mate Button took full advantage, but the 2008 champion wasn't going to give up that easy and dived down the inside into turn 3 ensuring a 1 km drag race down the back straight. 
But cunningly observing the duel between the two British McLaren drivers was a cerebral Spaniard , who gained a massive tow and overtook them both into turn 4. Another 3 car battle ensured between the former World Champions , showing utmost respect and class in fighting wheel to wheel. Setting a perfect example for the rest of the field. Button eventually won and got past Alonso but the relentless Asturian got the third place from him within a couple of laps. 

At the head of the field, Sebastian drove his perfect race , not bothered by the usual plume of back markers he had to overtake including the luckless Michael Schumacher who suffered a puncture going into Turn 1. The crowd saddened by this legend of Formula One being overtaken. Vettel looked immaculate,never losing focus into any braking zone , never locking a wheel or going off line. Perfection. He was miles ahead of his team-mate who being caught by the charging Alonso who was driving in stark contrast to his championship rival.
Lewis Hamilton hounding Mark Webber for third place.

Fernando was on the edge, that Ferrari looked as if it would fly off the circuit any moment. He was kicking dust on the inside kerb of turn 13 chicane. At turn 15 , he was throwing the car in and balancing it on the yaw , making corrections mid corner every single lap. His downshifts accurate ever single time , you could easily make out he had grabbed the car by the scruff of the throat and was giving it everything he had.

The fans went mad ! Ferdi enticed even the F1 virgins in the crowd who had readily given their allegiance towards the great Schumacher or the champion/past race winner Vettel . They all gasped as they noticed the over steer moments. This was what people had paid for , the "added" experience of watching a race live. This is what many miss whilst watching a race on TV. You could actually feel the aggression,the intensity of the Ferrari driver and stand back and truly agree with him that he indeed produced 60 qualifying laps.

The fans enthralled by the relentless Alonso
There was a nice touch at the end ,at the presentation ceremony when Martin Brundle questioned Sebastian on his new record which equaled Senna's. As he answered, the crowd impatiently chanted "Alonso,Alonso,Alonso". The Main Grand-stand reverberating with his name even before Vettel could finish his point, distracting and annoying the German a bit. 

And when Brundle turned to the driver of the day, the Buddh International Circuit erupted. Brundle had to stand back as the crowd went frantic cheering and thanking him for his never-say-die attitude. The TV cameras for a brief moment catching Christian Horner's expression as he looked with bemusement at the response. That for me sealed the deal that Formula One in India is here to stay.... 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Spectator's Guide to the Indian Grand Prix

In just under 10 days ,the Buddh International Circuit will host the second edition of the Indian Grand Prix.

Amidst initial concerns and a few initial teething problems during FP1 the entire race weekend of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix was fantastic and a great pride for any die hard Indian Formula 1 fan like myself .To have a Grand Prix track let alone a Formula One weekend in a country where motorsport and Formula One does not have the same appeal and following as compared to cricket or soccer,  was unimaginable even 5 years ago. Hopefully this track and the massive initiative by the Jaypee group in this venture will contribute to the rise of motorsport in this country. 

So for everyone out there who is looking forward to the Grand Prix weekend and aren't quite sure which stand to choose for the best possible viewing experience , I've reviewed each viewing area at the BIC.

The Buddh International Circuit:

With a total length of 5.137 km, The BIC just as any other modern Formula Circuit was designed by Herman Tilke who has received criticism from fans and many Formula One people for his tracks being too boring. With a lack of overtaking opportunities and being very stop and squirt, where the characteristics of the car contribute more than driver skill. However, with the BIC he did things differently with the circuit design being forwarded to the teams in order to improve overtaking opportunities as well as being a proper drivers circuit. If ever there was a Formula One "Super-Circuit" designed by the people who really know, this is the closest we can get.

The Main GrandStand :

The circuit features one of the longest pit lanes of any track in the season. The top teams Red Bull , McLaren and Ferrari have their garages and mechanics assembled on the entry of the pit-lane which is opposite the Tier Right of the Main Grandstand . However you will lose out of being near the pole position spot on the starting grid. 

Although the most action on track in terms of watching an F1 car while the race or a practice session is on will be just cars whizzing past you at over 300 kmph and braking into Turn 1. You do have the opportunity to see what the drivers and mechanics are upto and get a glimpse of how the teams adjust and tweak the setup of their cars. This is the only spot from where you can see the drivers out of the cockpit , discussing data and other technical bits with their race engineers. 

North Zone Stands :

The North Zone stands cover turns 1,2 and 3. Right after negotiating the first corner of the lap, drivers will have to climb 14 metres going through the left hand kink of Turn 2 leading on the top of a crest resulting in a blind apex for Turn 3.   

The exit of blind apex of Turn 3.
The track has been considerably widened here to encourage drivers taking different racing lines whilst battling for position leading on to the main straight. The North Zone stands offer great views of this section of the track .
In terms of car dynamics probably the best place in this zone would be the Classic North Stand as it faces the exit of Turn 3. 

East Zone: 

The main straight dips down slightly before rising slightly again before the hardest braking zone of the entire track at Turn 4 , a blind apex right hander taken at 100 kmphThis will also be where a majority of the overtaking during the race will take place as the DRS zone is set to be here.

The track then again drops down as another mini straight beckons.

Sector two is the bit the drivers really enjoy the most , this sector comprises of mostly 5th gear corners with drivers needing a good balance between the front and the rear of the car.

The complex of Turns 5,6,7 is probably my favorite part of the track and one of the best sequence of corners in the world , with many off track incidents seen during the weekend here. The Classic East Stand is one of the best places to see what a cornering thoroughbred a Formula One car is . 
Fernando kicking up some dust through turn 6

Drivers desperately try using their skill to hook the car into the entry of Turn 5 which immediately leads into Turn 6 and a quick right hander of turn 7. The old adage of compromising corner entry speed to maximise corner exit speed is probably never better accentuated anywhere else on the whole F1 calendar. Sit here and you'll never have a dull moment all throughout the weekend.

South Zone:

The south zone stands face the fastest section of the track with almost every corner in this section taken in 5th gear over 200 kmph.

Drivers negotiate another quick chicane of Turn 8 and 9 taken at 220 kmph . The "Massa"-kerbs loom here. Try and be overly generous in your kerb use in your entry for turn 8 and you'll end up like Felipe Massa last year with a broken front suspension.

Exit of Turn 12

Then comes the iconic Turns 10,11 and 12 . It's similar to the multi-apex turn 8 at Istanbul but with a tighter radius of 215 degrees and hence cannot be taken flat out which adds to the challenge.The Star stand in the South Zone offers a great view of this high speed section where you can notice the different racing lines different drivers take ,their steering inputs and also hear the throttle input mid corner. Another great place to watch a Formula One car and it's immense downforce generating capabilities.

Drivers exit turn 12 at over 250 kmph with another quick chicane, turns 13 and 14 awaiting them. 

West Zone:

At first look , it seems that this zone of the circuit only has the last two corners for viewing pleasure ; however due to the unique construction of the Buddh International Circuit , turns 5-15 are enclosed in an amphitheater of sorts.

The Classic West Stand 1 , offers a great vantage point for viewing cars exiting turns 13 and 14 at 200 kmph , where ever so often the back-end steps out in a dramatic fashion as well as offering a good view of cars incoming from the exit of turn 4 and braking into turn 5. 

The penultimate corner Turn 14 , features another blind apex and multiple racing lines can taken through this corner. Last year saw many drivers struggled to find their braking points into this corner and ran wide before deciding between a trip to the pitlane or going for another lap with Turn 15 being the final left hander before you gain traction and cross the start finish line.

Getting to the track: 

The race organisers do have a shuttle bus facility from the nearest metro station. Unfortunately that's a distance of over 40 km and will take a lot of time getting from there to the circuit. The best way is to avail the parking facilities and drive down . Traffic will be a major issue on the race day , not so much on Friday and Saturday though. If you're coming from central Delhi , it is advisable to leave at least 3-4 hours before the start of the race.

Preview to the Indian Grand Prix :

With Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel back to their dominant ways and having now taken the lead from Fernando Alonso in the championship, 2012 season is all set for a nail biting finish. Unlike last year when both the championships had been decided before coming into the race , the 2012 Indian Grand Prix will play a vital role in who will become World Champion this year.

Ferrari look to bring updates to this race in order to match the qualifying pace of the Red Bulls.The Friday and Saturday Practice sessions will be a real joy for those of you out there who enjoy the technical aspects of the sport.With cars dabbed with flo-viz paint , new wings/winglets and who knows some other new device.

For all Kimi Raikkonen supporters and I know there are plenty of Kimi fans in India , it'll be his first visit to India . Never a fan of "learning" a circuit through a simulator , Kimi himself professes that he has a natural gift of learning new circuits quickly. It'll be treat watching Kimi (who we all know is probably the most naturally talented driver out there) learn his way around this great drivers' circuit. The Lotus team will be trying to fine tune their new Coanda effect exhausts , although I don't see them being massively competitive this weekend.

Qualifying will be key , however as 2012 has proved anything can happen in the race. Tyres again will play a important factor and if it's hot on race day , strategy will be key for the win.

The home team Force India will be hoping for a repeat of the brilliance showed by Nico Hulkenberg in Korea and try and outscore Sauber in the constructors championship whilst the home hero Narain Karthikeyan will be wishing for a trouble free weekend as well.