Focus on the sharp end – what to look for at the 2012 India F1 Grand Prix

Red Bull are ruling the ring, now.

Can McLaren ‘hit back’ and get back on top?

They’ll need their matadors armed with new sharpened swords to do it

Can Ferrari find the 0.2 second per lap that Stefano Domenicali says is all they need?

Even with that, they’ll have to use their two butteri more strategically than they did in Korea.

Can Lotus get a similar performance improvement that Red Bull have achieved with their new front wing and refined ‘conanda’ effect exhaust?

They’ll need to and get both drivers in divine position and unattachment (especially Romaine) past the first lap to keep Kimi’s remote championship drive alive.  It would be fitting if Lotus had a divine weekend and achieve the sublime to win their first Grand Prix, in India.

The track:

Buddh International Circuit is an interesting mix of a couple of drag strips, an apex, good for passing, generally a few passing opportunities, and a bit of trixiness to boot.

The two long straights means power will be a factor, slightly favouring the more powerful engined cars, however, the mix of bends means that there will definitely be a trade-off for downforce settings on the cars.  The temperature is expected to be 31 degrees, so tire management could be decisive also.

For the top cars, so many antagonistic factors, combined with the unpredictability of the development race means it is difficult to predict a pecking order.

What to look for:

If McLaren or Ferrari have caught up, then it should show in Friday qualifying.  However, even if they head the pack in practice, both Red Bull and Lotus usually make substantial jumps up overnight Friday.

Any loss of power for Lotus, due to their installation of ‘coanda effect’ exhaust could hurt them in the power straights; James Allison talked up refining the system to recoup the power cost, but the Lotus just cannot afford any addition loss of grunt compared to the other teams.

Look for Red Bull’s straight line grunt; it’s been looking VERY good for the past two races; what have they got going that nobody else can figure out?  If they’ve got the grunt, then they’ll be hard to beat, and likely to gore their competitors with a possible 1-2.

And don’t count Red Bull out of the development race; other teams might bring two tenths, three tenths, maybe even half a second, but if Red Bull brings a few tenths, then they will still be ahead!

Vettel is on fire, and it’s turning into a firestorm.  I would not mind them falling behind a bit on machinery pace, just to see how Vettel might up his game, yet again this season.  He has been the best package since the summer break, by a mile.

Look also for preliminary tire degradation on Friday.  Even if this turns out to be decisive, I don’t think it is clear who has the advantage in tire wear management at this point in the campaign; while Lotus was the master class in the first half of the campaign, there have been so much development, who knows if this has been lost and clawed back by the other teams.

Further on down the road, the Taj Mahal?:

Force India is on the ascendance just in time for the India Grand Prix; they were threatening Lotus for the past couple of circuits, and with the power likely a factor, could surprise and land higher up the grid, a podium is not out of the question for either driver.

We’ll have to see if Sauber is back on the ups, though at this point in the season, I just cannot predict how their car will perform at any particular circuit.

 

This weekend should be good.

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