- Indian Grand Prix preview
Indian summerChris Medland October 24, 2013
The t-shirts will be printed and the champagne on ice as Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull prepares for a title party in India. It's almost unthinkable that Vettel won't be crowned champion this weekend, and it would be a fitting way to sign off the first three years of the Indian Grand Prix, with the race dropping off the calendar next year and facing an uncertain future. While Vettel and Red Bull are both sitting pretty, the fight for second in the constructors' championship remains a fierce one, and there's still plenty at stake at the Buddh International Circuit.
In FormThe announcement of Kimi Raikkonen's impending move to Ferrari appears to have been the awakening of Romain Grosjean. An impressive weekend in Singapore - which was ended by reliability issues - was followed by consecutive podiums in Korea and Japan. Grosjean looked totally at home leading the race at Suzuka and forced Red Bull in to splitting its strategies to cover his threat. He made Mark Webber work hard for the second place after some strong defensive driving and stood on the podium without Raikkonen ahead of him for the first time this season. Grosjean's current run of form appears to have secured his seat for 2014 and has alleviated the pressure on him, which should further enhance his performances.
Out of FormFelipe Massa has started to make a habit of going backwards in races recently, dropping from sixth on the grid to finish ninth in Korea and going from fifth to tenth in Japan. With his future uncertain the timing couldn't be worse for Massa as he needs to prove to potential suitors that he still has the ability to deliver strong results. While his decision to ignore Ferrari team orders at Suzuka displayed a determination from Massa to drive for himself now he's in the shop window, the end results have not been eye catching and he needs to improve over the final four races to prevent his Formula One career from petering out with a whimper.
One to watchAfter finally scoring the first points of his Formula One career in Japan, Esteban Gutierrez will be keen to kick on in India. Sauber was reluctant to give Gutierrez track time last year as it wanted to maximise its practice sessions using its race drivers, but Sergio Perez was deemed unwell in India and Gutierrez took part in FP1. That slight advantage should help him get up to speed with the circuit quicker than he would have at many other venues, and with the Sauber strong on traction and top speed - important in the first sector at Buddh - more points could be on the cards.
It's all a bit more complicated than in Japan but Sebastian Vettel is almost certain to wrap up his fourth championship this weekend. For Fernando Alonso to deny Vettel then Alonso has to finish in the top two; third or lower will see Vettel crowned champion. If Alonso wins then Vettel has to finish fifth or higher to take the title, and if Alonso is second then Vettel only needs a top eight finish in order to secure the championship.
The Indian Grand Prix arrived on the calendar in 2011 to much fanfare, though the circuit was barely finished when the first race took place. Last year, things went more smoothly but the honeymoon period appeared to be a short one as spectator figures dropped from an estimated 95,000 to 65,000. The race has struggled to capture the public's imagination - with the Times of India writing last year: "When you price a sport out of the reach of the common man, how can you expect it to have any sort of broad-based support?" - and with tax issues infuriating teams it appears that India's omission from the 2014 calendar could be more of a warning than a necessity due to a date change. Whether it actually returns remains to be seen.
One of the ever-present talking points towards the end of the year, the paddock will have a new name on its lips this weekend after Daniil Kvyat was announced as a Toro Rosso driver for 2014. Lotus and McLaren remain the biggest seats yet to be confirmed, while interest in the future of the Force India drivers is likely to ramp up at its home race. Questions remain over Pastor Maldonado's future too, with it unclear if he's affected by the Venezuelan government's decision to freeze all disbursements of hard currency to drivers competing abroad while it investigates a corruption scandal.
As we close in on the end of the season, the battle for final positions in the constructors' championship is taking on more and more importance because a higher finishing position means more prize money. Lotus is the form team but has ground to make up on Ferrari and Mercedes in a three-way fight for second place. Further back, having initially been hoping to finish ahead of McLaren in fifth place, Force India is now looking nervously over its shoulder at the fast-approaching Sauber, with the gap between the two teams now down to 17 points. Perhaps the most lucrative battle is at the bottom, with Marussia still in 10th place and Caterham admitting it needs luck to overtake its rival.
- 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
- Sebastian Vettel has led every lap of racing at the Buddh International Circuit
- The safety car has yet to be seen in either of the two races held in India so far
- Drivers will be at full throttle for 14.2s on the long straight between turns 3 and 4
- The official lap record is 1:27.249, held by Sebastian Vettel and set during the inaugural race weekend in 2011
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 two DRS zones in place on the pit straight and again after Turn 3.
Driver StewardTom Kristensen will return as driver steward for the first time since this year's Monaco Grand Prix. Kristensen is the most successful driver in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours, having won it on nine occasions, and this year is competing in the World Endurance Championship with Loic Duval and Allan McNish for Audi.
WeatherThe weather forecast points to a smooth and predictable weekend for the teams, with high track temperatures likely to be the only potential issue. All three days are expected to be dry and sunny, with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees throughout the weekend.
BettingThe bookies don't expect Sebastian Vettel's dominance to come to an end any time soon, with Vettel 2/5 to make it six victories in a row. Such has been Red Bull's run of form that Mark Webber is 11/4 and the second favourite, while the first non-Red Bull driver is Lewis Hamilton at 16/1. With the Buddh International Circuit having similar characteristics to Korea, the Lotus pair of Kimi Raikkonen at 20/1 and Romain Grosjean at 25/1 are very good value, while Nico Hulkenberg at 6/4 for the top six is worth a look. If you're looking for a bigger return, then the sister Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez is 9/1 to achieve the same result.
ESPN predictionHaving backed Sebastian Vettel in Japan, we're going to revert to the usual ESPN approach of recklessly backing an outsider. With warm weather expected and off the back of several impressive performances, we're tipping Romain Grosjean to take his first grand prix victory for Lotus while Vettel secures the title.
Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1