Formula 1 makes its second visit to India this weekend for Round 17 of this long 2012 season.
Just looking at the Drivers’ Championship standings, this title race seems nicely poised as we head to the Asian sub-continent. Sebastian Vettel leads Fernando Alonso by just six points, and Kimi Räikkönen sits as an outsider in the battle, 42 points off the lead.
That picture does not tell the whole story though. Ever since Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox failed on Lap 23 of the Singapore Grand Prix, Vettel has lead every racing lap, and taken three consecutive victories. He has turned a deficit of 39 points from Alonso into a six point advantage over the Spaniard.
Is this run of wins going to be disrupted in New Delhi? Not likely, I’m afraid! Vettel not only won the inaugural event at the Buddh International Circuit last season, but totally dominated the weekend. He lead every lap from pole position, and set the fastest lap en route to his eleventh (and final) victory of 2011.
Given the amazing performance of Vettel and Red Bull in Japan and Korea, it is hard to imagine a different scenario at this year’s Indian Grand Prix. After the mishmash of strange and unpredictable results in the first half of 2012, some sense of normality has now returned to Formula 1.
Vettel’s championship lead is still only six points though. The German is probably going to pick up his third title this season, but it is not guaranteed quite yet.
But even if one does think that the title race is now a forgone conclusion, there will still be plenty of reasons to follow the action for these remaining four races. There are many stories continuing to unfold, including the following:
Will Lotus win a race? This one has been going on and on for much of the season. The E20 clearly has (or had) the pace to win a race, and has scored nine podiums already. Earlier on in the season, one felt that the team just needed that little bit more luck – Kimi Räikkönen in Bahrain was a fine example – and victory would be theirs. Unfortunately for those in Enstone, Red Bull has peaked at just the wrong time, and a race win in 2012 is looking less likely.
The On-Going Improvement of Felipe Massa. Some feisty driving in Singapore, followed by a podium in Japan and a hard-fought fourth place in Korea, has shown that Massa has raised his game. These performances were enough for Ferrari to award him with a race seat for 2013. With speculation about his future now over, will Massa manage to recreate the great drives that almost won him the 2008 championship?
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button vs. Sergio Perez. Ever since it was announced that Hamilton was off to Mercedes next season, and that Perez would be moving to join Button at McLaren, the young Mexican has made a habit of engaging the two McLaren drivers on track. In Japan he overtook the man he will be replacing – Hamilton – with a stylish overtaking move, but later in the race managed to fall off the track when attempting another manoeuvre. The following weekend in Korea, he managed to tag Button going into the first corner of the race, moments before his Sauber team-mate Kamui Kobayashi ensured that Button’s race was over with his mad driving.
More Driver Move News. Speaking of Kobayashi, he is one of the many mid-field drivers who are yet to have their 2013 drive confirmed. In the case of Kobayashi, the rumour to gain most traction is that he will be replaced at Sauber by Nico Hulkenberg. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of drivers in the metaphoric ‘shop window’ over the coming weeks, either trying to persuade their current teams to extend their contracts, or to show off their skills to other prospective employers. This could lead to ambitious overtaking, stellar qualifying laps, or just absolute chaos.
Some of these stories (and many others) will start to be told in India this weekend. And, you never know, there is a chance that Vettel will not get everything his own way on Sunday… but he probably will.
- Qualifying for the Indian Grand Prix begins at 09:30 BST on Saturday with the race starting at 09:30 GMT on Sunday.
- Coverage in the UK is available on Sky Sports F1 HD and BBC Radio 5 Live. Delayed highlights will be available on BBC television.