Formula 1 makes its annual trip to a brand new track this weekend for Round 17 of this 2011 season: the inaugural Indian Grand Prix.
The Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, located about 50 kilometres south east of New Delhi becomes the fifth new Formula 1 venue in four years and it is one that teams and drivers are approaching with a great deal of anticipation.
Many people are expecting this latest addition to the calendar to be something quite special. It is another Herman Tilke design, with sixteen corners and three long straights. The lap is expect to be fast – second only to Monza – and with a width of up to 20 metres in certain areas, it should provide plenty of opportunities for overtaking and the possibility of some wheel-to-wheel racing.
Another feature of this new purpose-built circuit is some striking undulations. Apparently, more than four million cubic tonnes of soil have been moved to shape this landscape and there is a difference of 14 metres between Turns 1 and 3 alone. Drivers will have to contend with 8% downhill slopes and 10% inclines, figures of which Spa-Francorchamps would be proud.
And, of course, there is the unique challenge that every new track brings: the unknown. Teams have architect plans and basic information from the FIA but, only when they arrive at the circuit later this week will they get a clear idea of how their car will perform. The teams and drivers that can adapt to the new surrounding fastest could have a distinct advantage during the early part of the weekend.
However, as race organisers in Turkey know all too well, a great track does not guarantee that a new grand prix will be successful. Are the Indian people sufficiently interested in Formula 1 to flock to the track this weekend? Will the ticket prices be affordable? Can F1 ever truly be welcomed in a country where the number one sport is cricket?
The crowds will not be flocking to see the climax of an epic championship battle of course. Sebastian Vettel wrapped the drivers' title up nearly three weeks ago and Red Bull sealed the constructors' crown last time out in Korea. However, with Fernando Alonso and the McLaren drivers vowing to fight on for the remainder of the season, Vettel determined to continue his dominant form, and Mark Webber desperately battling for a win, there should still be plenty to look forward to in the remaining three races of 2011.
Unfortunately the Indian crowds who turn up on Sunday will not get to see Karun Chandhok racing. The Team Lotus test and reserve driver, who many would consider to be the best that India have produced so far, will only be in the car for FP1. Some consolation for the local fans is that Narain Karthikeyan will be in the HRT for the entire weekend, assuming he doesn't fall foul of the 107% rule.
As for fans in the UK, there is not only the excitement of seeing the first race at a brand new track, but there is also the prospect of a weekend lie-in to look forward to. India's location does not quite lend itself to a lunchtime race, but at least die-hard fans will not have to awake at 6am on a Saturday morning for qualifying.
- Qualifying for the Indian Grand Prix begins at 09:30 BST on Saturday whilst the race begins at 09:30 GMT on Sunday. Full coverage is available in the UK on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live.
- There will be full coverage of the weekend’s events here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk