It was an interesting Saturday at the Buddh International Circuit and as we suspected on Friday, it was confirmed that the soft tyre compound would prove a pivotal factor in the way the Indian GP weekend would unfold.
With heavy smog hanging over BIC limiting the final practice to forty minutes, it was an incredibly busy session and the aim for most front runners was to figure out how long the soft tyres would last on different fuel loads.
Red Bull especially seemed to suffer extensive blistering on the front left as early as three or four laps on Friday.
At the end of the final practice it was clear that the medium tyre would have the advantage over a stint, and it also confirmed my suspicions about a few frontrunners trying to qualify on the harder tyre (the qualifying tactics I touched upon in yesterday’s column!) so they would be able to start on full tanks with the harder tyre and do a longer opening stint than those on fragile softs as they would have to pit earlier.
Come qualifying, Lotus who took a gamble and got it horribly wrong for Grosjean which saw him getting eliminated in Q1 after he stuck to mediums for his sole run.
Vettel was the only other driver to use the same strategy, but then the Red Bull has had half a second or so in hand throughout the weekend.
The Lotus strategists got it wrong and underestimated the amount of track evolution that happened throughout the session — which was quite surprising for me as from the last two years, I recall that after the massive evolution from first to second practice, the track didn’t get radically faster for the rest of the weekend.
The reason for that I think was the rain that hit the circuit overnight and washed away the built-up rubber from Friday.
The running in first practice was curtailed as well so the track picked up a lot over 20 minutes of Q1 and Lotus strategists simply got caught out.Brave Webber
It was brave of Webber to go with mediums in Q3 and the gamble seemed to have paid off (for now!) as he still starts on the second row — four places ahead of next placed medium starter Fernando Alonso.
The Ferrari has shown better tyre usage over the practice sessions compared to the Red Bull so he can’t be ruled out of coming through the field as well. For sure though, these two guys will certainly go further in their opening stints than those around them.
Also come Sunday, I think there is a possibility that the softs may end up lasting more than currently expected as the track is rubbered-in well, which means degradation will be lesser compared to earlier in the weekend.
If the rain stays away, it means that the disadvantage for soft-tyre runners will be considerably reduced compared to those on the mediums. I think the final 10 laps or so of Sunday’s race will be incredibly fascinating. But one thing is clear – whichever way things play out on Sunday, the extent of Vettel’s domination is clear. He clinched the pole by seven-tenths in qualifying — which is light years in Formula 1.
Looking at the onboard video of his pole lap, it felt like the RB9 was on rails and Vettel is seamlessly wired into it.
Yes, the gap would have been smaller had Webber gone with softs but there is no discounting the fact that he has really made Buddh his backyard.
So it is incredibly difficult to bet against him to complete an Indian Grand Prix hat-trick – although for sure it wouldn’t be as straightforward for him as it has been in the last two years.
The writer is India’s first F1 driver.