HindustanTimes Fri,19 Dec 2014
Drive soft on the hard ones
Karun Chandhok, Hindustan Times
October 30, 2011
First Published: 00:10 IST(30/10/2011)
Last Updated: 00:14 IST(30/10/2011)
Force India-Mercedes driver Adrian Sutil of Germany leads Williams-Cosworth driver Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela during the qualifying session of the Formula One's Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International circuit in Greater Noida. (AFP)

The qualifying session on Saturday had all the usual suspects up at the front with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton topping the times. Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, will, however, take a three-place grid penalty earned during Friday's free practice, so that means we'll have an all-Red Bull front row.

You could see as the session went along just how much the track was cleaning up and, in the end it was an outstanding lap from Sebastian. If you look behind him, the next three cars did very similar lap times, but the current world champion showed just why he's the best qualifier on the grid, with his 13th pole position of the year - a clear three-tenths ahead of the pack.

On Sunday, it's going to be interesting to see how the strategies play out. The issue for the teams is that the difference in performance between the harder and the softer tyres this weekend is quite big - nearly two seconds per lap in qualifying and coming down to perhaps 1.5 seconds in the race. Both types of tyres need to be used in the race as per the regulations.

Switching tyres
Given the lap time difference, the drivers need to spend as much time as possible on the soft tyres before using the harder one for a short stint. Where the problem lies is that there's a limit to how you use the tyres during the weekend. All the drivers would have already used some of those tyres for qualifying on Saturday, so it's a real juggling act to ensure you have enough new tyres for the race. This is why you didn't see the Torro Rossos or the Adrian Sutils do a timed lap during the final part of qualifying.

I would expect to see two to three pit stops on Sunday. The softer tyres seem to be fairly durable this weekend and we should see drivers manage to stretch their stint up to 15 or so laps and, therefore, split the race into three or four parts with a shorter stint on the harder tyres. The teams that aren't too harsh on the tyres, such as Sauber or even Ferrari, could try and do two stops but it will mean stretching the softer tyre quite long and hoping it doesn't lose too much performance. The more aggressive strategists will use a three-stop strategy and hope the drivers can use the great overtaking opportunities at this track and the drag reduction system (DRS) to make their strategy work.

Track position on Lap 1 and being able to get through without any damage will be hugely important. The extra-wide overtaking zones into turns three and four particularly will tempt drivers to have a dive down the inside on Lap 1, which means we could certainly see some incidents and possibly an early safety car. We should see Sebastian make the best use of a clean track to get into the lead but Mark Webber, who will be on the dirty side, will have to battle to defend from Fernando Alonso whose Ferrari is traditionally a rocket off the line. Whatever happens, it should be a fascinating contest to watch at this historic first Indian Grand Prix.

(Karun Chandhok is a Team Lotus driver and brand ambassador of the Buddh International Circuit.)

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