- Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column
India deserves its place in F1
The second Indian Grand Prix clearly showed that it deserves a place on the calendar. Despite some question marks beforehand about whether F1 has lost its novelty in India, there was a good crowd turn out for race day, enough celebs to make it a 'happening event' (very important for the Indian mentality!), good coverage across TV, online and print media, better facilities and organisation and a greener track that looked great on TV.
All the tweets from team personnel, drivers and the international media showed that they clearly enjoyed being in India and it's definitely a destination that most people look forward to going back to. The Jaypee group really deserve a huge pat on the back - as one of the very few non-government backed F1 races on the calendar, it's been a huge task to fund and run the event, which is something that should never be underestimated.
The race was once again a Red Bull/Sebastian Vettel dominant affair but Fernando Alonso's second place proved just what an amazing competitor he is. The Spaniard benefitted a bit from Mark Webber's KERS problem but even so, his feistiness behind the wheel to get through the McLarens and Mark was typically impressive. The opening lap battle between Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Fernando was fantastic to watch - three world champions all with a lot of respect for each other and giving each other just enough space but not even an inch more. There's little doubt that lesser drivers would've come to blows at those opening few corners…
With no big updates on any of the cars in India the Indian GP had a sense of predictability about it given what we've seen in the last few races. The form guide was really driven home in qualifying. Red Bulls up front, then the Mclarens and Ferraris followed by a mix of Lotus, Sauber, Williams, Force India and Mercedes pretty much represented what the state of play is at the moment in terms of ultimate pace.
The tyre degradation was very low around the Buddh International Circuit and with the green track on Friday already showed that a one-stopper was clearly possible once the track rubbered in for the race. This really meant that the race was a bit of a hark back to the old Bridgestone era where the drivers could attack the whole time and push on every lap of the race without worrying about tyre management. While this must have been satisfying for the guys in the car, I have to say it did mean that the racing wasn't as good as we've seen otherwise this season.
There was some criticism from people after last year's race that the circuit at BIC isn't great for overtaking, but I think the tyres are the key to why there isn't much overtaking. It's also clear that the tyres have a greater effect on the racing when you compare with KERS or DRS. If you look back to a circuit like Barcelona for example, which pre-Pirelli was a nightmare to overtake at, there's no reason based purely on circuit layout that the BIC should be harder to overtake than there.
There are plenty of arguments for both cases - some want to see the fastest drivers in the fastest cars driving as fast as possible on every lap of every race. I can assure you that while from the outside this case may look boring and easy for the drivers, it's actually much more satisfying as you can really enjoy pushing the car to the limit all through the race.
On the flip side, I think more people would rather see more overtaking and wheel-to-wheel racing up and down the field. As I just said, it's clear that the tyres have a bigger effect on overtaking than anything else and it must be a nightmare for Pirelli's PR and marketing department to hear people moaning about high tyre wear all the time, but the reality is while it's not much fun for the drivers, for the people in the grandstands and watching on TV, this makes the racing fantastic.
Off to Abu Dhabi next and a circuit with unquestionably the best facilities in the world. The race organisers Richard Cregan, Mark Hughes and their team in Abu Dhabi use the enormous cheque book from the ruling family very well and put on a fantastic event. The one downside is that the circuit isn't the most exciting to drive or for overtaking as we've seen in the past. It's crunch time for Ferrari and Fernando - they need to outscore Sebastian to try and get the gap in the world championship down to single digits again and have a chance of winning in the last two races. I fear that if it's another Vettel victory, the championship may well be game over for Fernando.