Formula One heads for pastures new this weekend in the form of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in Greater Noida. The Buddh International Circuit is ready (for racing at least) and the country is gripped by the new sport that will grace its shores. With a new country to see and a new track to learn, it's easy to forget that there is a race to be won, and if the last few grands prix are anything to go by, we could be in for a great race. Red Bull might have wrapped up the constructors' championship, but the races are going to take on a new dimension as it focuses on securing second place in the drivers' standings for Mark Webber. Plenty of unknowns and the top three teams closely matched...it should be a classic.
On FormWe've been pretty much on the money with this section in recent weeks, pointing out Jenson Button is in good touch ahead of Japan - where he won - and then similarly Fernando Alonso last time out in Korea, who may only have finished fifth but was the quickest man over the final stint of the race and within striking distance of second. This week, though, it's a case of role reversal as Lewis Hamilton arrives in India on the back of a fantastic defensive drive at Yeongam. Having secured pole position with a typically attacking lap reminiscent of the 2008 Hamilton, he left Vettel too much space in to turn four, but from there on defended brilliantly from the much faster Mark Webber. By the end of the race Hamilton had the fifth fastest car due to a front wing issue, but kept Webber at bay thanks to clever tactics and some outstanding wheel-to-wheel racing through the middle sector. Hamilton's reserved reaction after the race indicates just how much he wants to build on that performance too.
Out of formThe midfield margins are small at present, with one poor race proving costly. After Sergio Perez's strong drive in to the points in Japan, Sauber slumped in Korea. Both Perez and Kamui Kobayashi struggled with tyre wear - an area where they were previously so strong - and the pair finished behind the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen. Coupled with the strong performance from Toro Rosso the result has closed things right up in the constructors' championship, with just 12 points separating the three teams battling for sixth. Sauber is bringing front and rear wing upgrades to India, and will hope they work in order to prevent it dropping to eighth in the standings.
One to watchToro Rosso is suddenly right back in the mix for sixth place in the constructors' championship after a strong double-points finish in Korea left it just three points behind Sauber and 12 behind Force India. Jaime Alguersuari put his seventh place down to the team's ability to maximise the car's potential after updates brought to Japan didn't initially deliver the desired result. It also showed a growing maturity from Alguersuari, who passed Nico Rosberg on the final lap having caught him during the final stint, and then said he had already foreseen a two stop race on the Saturday; something that no-one else had predicted.
Talking pointsThe circuit
After what was frankly a debacle when India hosted the Commonwealth Games last year, and with Korea also struggling to ready a circuit for 2010, there were worries that the Buddh International Circuit would not be ready in time for this year's race. The track is complete and there will be no problem carrying out the race, but work is still ongoing and the media will be quick to point out any issues that are caused either for the teams, the fans, or for themselves.
Following the tragic accident in IndyCar that saw British driver Dan Wheldon killed, the Formula One paddock was rocked. Many knew Wheldon personally, with the likes of Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson having raced against him all the way up until their moves in to F1. Although there has not been a death in Formula One since 1994, the safety of open wheel racing is at the forefront of everyone's minds as a result of the crash, and there will be plenty of opinions on how it can be made even safer.
Lewis Hamilton (again)
Having drawn plenty of comment in Korea due to his demeanour after securing pole and taking second, the interest in Hamilton is only going to intensify in the paddock with the news that he has split with his long-term high-profile girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger. While it may explain his mood two weeks ago, his problems seem to be a culmination of a number of things and he'll find his state of mind scrutinised once again.
While India makes its debut on the calendar, it comes in the same week that a second grand prix in America was announced, with New Jersey scheduled to join the calendar in 2013. That's just a year after the first race at the new Circuit of the Americas is due to take place, and there's also been confirmation that a consortium is attempting to find a location to establish a track in Mumbai. Korea says it needs help if it is to secure its Formula One future, but despite the economic problems around the world it seems the demand for F1 is higher than ever.
- The circuit is located near Greater Noida, around 60km outside of New Delhi
- The track will be 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 65% 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 expected to reach 4.0G
- Turn 12 will be the quickest corner of the lap, expected to be taken at around 160mph
- The lap is expected to have the second highest average speed of the season behind Monza
CircuitThe new track has some distinct Hermann Tilke features to it, and is relatively similar to Korea in its contradictory nature. 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 like turns 10 and 11. Overtaking opportunities will occur in to turn one and turn four, with a double DRS zone in place on the pit straight and again after turn three.
Driver StewardThree-time grand prix winner Johnny Herbert makes his fifth appearance as a driver steward, having also fulfilled the role in Australia.
WeatherOne of the safer weather forecasts of the season, the whole weekend is expected to be bone dry and very warm. Sustained spells of sunshine could see track temperatures reach some of the highest of the year, which will have a substantial impact on the life expectancy of the soft compound Pirelli tyres if blistering occurs.
BettingSebastian Vettel is once again the favourite at 6/5, and Lewis Hamilton returns to the shorter odds of the McLaren pair at 11/4. Jenson Button's form before Korea keeps him down to 7/2 while Mark Webber comes in to 11/2 after Red Bull's admission that its primary focus is now to get him in to second place in the drivers' standings. Fernando Alonso is out to 7/1, while Felipe Massa is worth serious each-way consideration with his outright odds listed at 100/1.