Despite its many rough edges and teething problems last year, Formula One fell in love with the Indian Grand Prix at first sight. The vibrancy, enthusiasm and total randomness experienced on F1's first visit to the subcontinent was a welcome change from the sterile venues in the middle-east. The wobbly paddock paving and random power cuts may not have been tolerated at other venues, but were easy to overlook when put into context by a walk through one of Delhi's backstreet bazaars. The race itself was a bit disappointing and a dead rubber after both championships had been sewn up by Red Bull at the previous two races. Not so this season, and with the track a little tidier and a little less dusty, the hope is that India will tick all the boxes in its second year.
On formOver the past three races Sebastian Vettel has barely put a wheel off line as Red Bull has hauled itself to the front of the pack. Nevertheless, his third consecutive title is by no means a foregone conclusion as F1 in 2012 has been anything but predictable and only a fool would write off Fernando Alonso overcoming a six point deficit in four races. Ferrari has vowed to go aggressive during that period and McLaren is still capable of taking points away from Red Bull on the right sort of circuit. Vettel would be a very worthy triple world champion, but he hasn't been crowned just yet.
Out of formFor such a successful driver, Michael Schumacher's career is facing a rather ignominious end. He has scored no points over the last three races after paying heavily for his contact with Jean-Eric Vergne at Singapore with a ten-place grid penalty at Suzuka and then struggling for pace in Korea. When he announced his retirement in Japan he admitted that his batteries were "in the red zone" and with Mercedes latest exhaust update yet to yield its promised boost in performance, the current downward trend looks set to continue. But what a shame it would be if he didn't bow out with at least one more "classic Schumacher" performance. Hopefully, now that the end is in sight, his batteries will be re-energised and he will rediscover the form he has shown in glimpses this year and showed so regularly in his earlier career.
One to watchIt's always interesting to see how pressure off the track affects a driver on the track. Bruno Senna is driving for his future over the four remaining races, and while he is not alone in that, he needs to get ahead of team-mate Pastor Maldonado in the drivers' championship to put forward a compelling enough case for Williams to keep him on. He has been shown up in qualifying throughout the year but handing his car over to Valterri Bottas in Q1 hasn't helped matters. His race pace has been good and that has shown in the standings as he has gradually reeled in the inconsistent Maldonado since the Spanish Grand Prix. A few more performances like his one in Hungary could be enough to close the eight-point gap to the Venezuelan, which would present Williams' management with a very tough decision.
The Buddh International Circuit
The layout of the Buddh International Circuit was praised by all the drivers last year, but dust off the racing line and a predictable tyre strategy made for dull racing. This year the circuit should offer a bit more grip after 12 month's use and less local construction, meaning drivers will be able to exploit some of the wide corner entries specifically designed for overtaking. Early reports from the circuit suggest it is in better shape this year and if it offers up a good race it could be regarded as one of the most exciting tracks on the calendar. Away from the track there were several rough edges around the paddock last year, with loose paving stones, power cuts and a staircase leading to nowhere at top of the pit and paddock complex. However, the organisers did not try to hide the issues and have addressed them for this year's race.
Mallya under pressure
Indian newspapers have been full of stories about the financial troubles concerning Vijay Mallya's airline business, Kingfisher Airlines. The latest reports suggests staff members won't demonstrate at this weekend's grand prix over alleged unpaid salaries, but Mallya's own appearance is still likely to come under a great deal of scrutiny. For obvious reasons the race is hugely important for Force India and its team principal, but avoiding a grilling from Indian and international journalists may mean Mallya keeps a lower profile than usual.
After finishing third in Korea, Fernando Alonso told the media that his car has not had any major updates for the last six or seven races, which, put simply, is not good enough. The team has admitted that wind tunnel correlation issues have hampered progress and it has promised to bring a constant stream of new parts to the remaining races to try to close the gap to Red Bull. Chief designer Nikolas Tombazis said a successful straight-line test earlier this week had helped, but the gains on the track need to be significant in order to give Alonso a fighting chance.
The driver market
Slowly but surely the open slots on the 2013 grid are being filled. The "big four" teams have all nailed down their line-ups and Lotus (arguably a member of the "big four" now) looks set to retain both drivers. The focus is now on Force India, Sauber and Wiliams, and with no options available further up the grid, decisions should start to be made. Nico Hulkenberg is expected to go to Sauber next year, Paul di Resta is almost certainly staying at Force India and Pastor Maldonado will likely remain at Williams, but the other positions are less certain. With every race the picture becomes slightly clearer so expect more details to emerge in India.
- The circuit is located in Greater Noida, around 60km outside of New Delhi
- The track is part of a much wider development known as Jaypee Greens Sports City, which will also include a cricket stadium, hockey stadium and golf course
- Jaypee Greens Sports City will also feature residential areas split up in to 12 themed districts
- The circuit name - Buddh International Circuit - is derived from the word Buddha to mean peace and calmness, and is also a reference to the Gautam Buddh Nagar district where it is based
- Drivers spend 64% of the 3.192 mile lap at full throttle and spend the longest time flat out between turns three and four; a total of 14.5 seconds
- The maximum g-force load is around 4.0G
- Turn 12 is the quickest corner of the lap, expected to be taken at around 160mph
- There were 18 overtakes at last year's race, 14 of which were DRS-assisted
FIA driver stewardAlan Jones makes his third appearance in the stewards' room this weekend, having made his debut at the 2010 Korean Grand Prix and again in 2011 to adjudicate at Suzuka. Best known as the 1980 Formula One World Champion, the Australian raced far and wide, competing everywhere from Can-Am and F5000 to Le Mans and Australian Touring Cars.
CircuitThe track has some distinctive Hermann Tilke features to it, and is relatively similar to Korea in style. The first half of the lap combines long straights and hairpin turns, before the second half sees more high speed sections and challenging double apex corners, which were particularly popular with drivers in 2011. Overtaking opportunities occur into turn one and turn four, with double DRS zones in place on the pit straight and again after turn three.
WeatherSun is expected throughout the weekend, but as we witnessed last year smoggy cloud can take the edge off early morning temperatures. For the race air temperatures should be 30C and above, meaning the teams will have to closely manage the soft compound tyres to ensure they don't drop off with thermal degradation.
BettingAfter three victories at the last three races, it's no surprise to see Sebastian Vettel as the bookies' favourite at 10/11. Fernando Alonso is at odds of 5/1 to take the win he so sorely needs for his championship challenge, but Lewis Hamilton at 13/2 is probably a better bet assuming McLaren has got to the bottom of his set-up and reliability issues. Once again, Felipe Massa is a long shot at 50/1, but considering his recent return to form is a very tempting each-way bet.