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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The Ultimate Drive… Spa 2012 September 02

2012 August 31 23h00 ET

Spa – The Belgium Grand Prix creates a general consensus amongst drivers, as the ultimate race course.

There has been a lot in the F1 media about the Lotus so-called double DRS, with the fluid switch device, reportedly worth over a second a lap.  This combined with two of this season’s better performers has lead many to suspect a overdue Lotus win; especially Kimi, a Spa specialist, and possibly the best racer in the field, has been touted as a favourite.  Certainly, the Lotus has been strong in drier and warmer circuits.

But the conditions are not likely to be warm, and the dry is never certain at Spa.  There’s been some argument that the demands of Spa will cause more heat to go into the tires.  Regardless, Kimi has got to be a favourite, if ‘the device’, as James Allison now likes to refer to it, delivers the 1.3 to 1.4 per lap(!), then he must be considered a favourite.  Yet, I get the feeling that Lotus are really aiming for Monza; maybe it’s not ready?  Even if not, the Lotus has become the emerging leader for aerodynamics and handling, and have established the momentum with a second and third in Hungary, showing their car was faster than the winning McLaren of Lewie Hamilton.

But we haven’t heard about what the others have done to their machinery.

McLaren may have developed a system to modulate the heat put into the tires.  Spa has been called a power circuit, favouring stronger motors, of which power the McLaren.  Though in the past several years it hasn’t seemed to have played such a significant role, i.e. last year’s Webber, Renault-powered RB.  But Hamilton has the momentum; he hung on against two faster opponents and claimed the victory.

Astute observers should consider either McLaren drivers as threats for victory, but especially Hamilton.  Now throw in the development factor, what has McLaren developed to bring to the show over the long summer break?  Well, if they really have, got ‘back on track’ as their spin campaign suggests, then this development factor should further their competitiveness against their opponents.

But I’m not convinced they have got their development process back on track.  They might have, but they’ve had a really rocky, inconsistent campaign this year, and they may well not be so much on track in the development race.

Both Vettel and Webber have been strong this year, and capable of winning when the cumulative of the small and large efforts, and sometimes luck, go their way.  I like Mark Webber, and I enjoy seeing him delivering, and delivering.  The Red Bull was the best baseline car of the year, despite losing their greatest comparative advantage of the so-called exhaust-blown diffuser.  The car is sleek and development has been second only to the Red team, who, starting so far back at the beginning of the season, had the most potential to improve in.  Red Bull, on the other hand, has had constant, steady improvement; anyone who underestimates the design genius of F1 is foolish.  If you throw in the development factor, little of Red Bulls direction over the summer break have been in the news, then they must also be considered well within striking distance of the win, if not two podiums.

Almost universally considered to be the driver of the year, Alonso has made the most of the continually improving Red car, and we must also note, has been favoured by the atrocious cold, wet weather this year.  But the bold and industrious create their own luck, and it must be acknowledged that Alonso stands out as the driver who has squeezed the most out of the package this year.  Let us not forget that he is driving Ferrari, and all of the experience and resources that elite machine of a team, can deliver.  Alonso is distinguishing himself as the most capable driver of all time to create the focus and coordination of a team to advance their performance, and in light of who he follows, that is saying a lot.

Ferrari have undoubtedly continued their exceptional development efforts of this season, and therefore Alonso, as he has proven again and again, especially this year, can win this year;s Belgium GP.  But is there enough in the Ferrari?  Are they close enough to really get to terms with the other three, that is the real question as the season resumes.

Mercedes will have had to performed a complete turn around and issued a new specification of their car to have a hope, or perhaps craftily found something that nobody else has?  If you were to nominate the person who has done this more than anybody in the history of the sport, Ross Brawn will be at the top of the list.  There’s also been a lot of fuss about Schumi’s 300th GP and his history at Spa, but let’s face it, his season so far echoes that of Mercedes, fairly miserable.  Rosberg seems to have just faded into the background since China, where he in the Mercedes so completely dominated the field!  What happened?

Sauber, it’s so good to see them doing well this year, the no frill team is delivering and delivering in convincing style.  It could be argued that they have had the most exciting driver pair of the year, both aggressive, technically good, and improving all the time.  Both Perez and Kobyashi have been very entertaining to watch; I’d enjoy seeing a Kobyashi podium; he is by far the greatest Japanese driver of all time, already, and he hopefully has a long way to go.

The prediction:

My heart says Kimi, but got to give Lewis equal odds to win.

Almost indistinguishably close, in no particular order, Webber, Vettel, Grosjean, and Alonso are all well within range of the top step.