New track, new territory, new culture… The excitement surrounding the inaugural Indian Grand Prix last weekend, from the fans but also the teams and driver’s point of view showed more than ever that Formula One really is all about reaching to new crowds.
It is fair to say that with the 2011 World Championships already won by Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull team, the remainder of the year could have turned into a precession, with all of the “second best” turning their heads to 2012 already. But that’s forgetting how competitive those 24 drivers and all the people working around them are – with three races to go, lots of points yet to be won and places to be secured in both championships, everyone dived into the Indian Grand Prix weekend headfirst, eager to discover a new track.
And from Friday morning, it became quite clear that the Buddh International Circuit could become one of the drivers’ favourites – elevation, fast corners… Nico quickly described it as “awesome”, and most of the drivers soon started to praise what the Indian organisers achieved with the track.
Another factor emerging even before the first car turned up on track was how dusty the track was… clearly our feature will never be better named than for this Indian Grand Prix! All teams had to take this into account while working on the set-up during Friday’s practice sessions, and the big question mark for the weekend clearly was how much grip the drivers would have on Sunday.
The team had a pretty productive Friday with 118 laps covered between Michael and Nico. Ross described our pace as “reasonable” and the team approached qualifying with the aim of repeating our good pace of the last few races – and turning it into a good result.
After a mixed Friday, when he worked quite hard on finding a good set-up for the race, Michael approached qualifying with reasonable confidence. Sadly, his Saturday turned out to be a troubled one – after he hit some traffic at the start of Q2, Michael was about to start his final run when he felt a vibration on his tyres. Michael finished the session with a time of 1.26.337 and ended up in 12th place, missing out on Q3 by… 0.18s!
His start on Sunday turned into Michael’s 2011 trademark as he once again gained multiple places by the end of the first lap – four to be precise. This can be partly explained by Michael’s great tactic during the first part of the opening lap – instead of using most of his KERS to get a better getaway of the grid, Michael saved it for the two long straights which allowed him to make clean overtakes and to run in eighth place, just behind Nico at the start of the second lap.
From there, Michael smartly “controlled” his pace with his race engineer to clock the lap times needed but avoiding getting too close to Nico, which would have destroyed his tyres quicker due to the lack of clean air. Instead, Michael drove in clean air, monitoring the gaps to Nico in front and Sutil behind, until his first stop on lap 18. Thanks to another great job from the pit crew – the fastest stop of the race with 20.893s – Michael only lost two positions in the process and quickly regained one when he overtook Senna on lap 19.
Michael managed to look after his tyres amazingly well during his second stint, clocking consistently in the low 1.28’ towards the end of his stint and being the quickest driver on track before his second stop. His tyre management played a crucial part in the final result – Michael stayed on track five laps longer than Nico and was doing his best lap times at the time. This meant he retained fifth position when he emerged after his second and final stop on lap 50.
His pace for the final ten laps of the race meant that Michael stayed untroubled and crossed the finish line in 5th place… A great result for him, especially after a complicated start of the weekend.
Nico quickly became one of the first drivers to praise the track’s layout, and his qualifying session indeed showed that he tamed the circuit quite well. Sadly for him, Nico hit a kerb quite heavily in Q1, resulting in some damage to the floor of his car which cost downforce for the remainder of the session…
The semi-disappointment also came from the fact that Nico was on his quickest lap of Q3 when he saw the yellow flags being waved to signal Massa’s incident and had to slow down… nevertheless, Nico finished the session with the seventh fastest lap – 0.5s away from Button’s time in fifth place – and left him wanting for more for the race!
Nico had a good start on Sunday, maintaining seventh place and managing the gap to the cars around him. His pace during the first stint was pretty good and the first part of his race was “calm” – if such a thing exists – as Nico spent the first 17 laps pretty much “alone”. Nico pitted on lap 17 for his second set of primes (the soft tyre, remember) and continue to pace himself pretty well.
Sadly Nico’s tyres faded quicker than Michael’s and he had to pit on lap 45 for his second and final stop of the day, as he began to lose pace relative to his team-mate. A small issue during the stop meant that Nico stayed a bit longer than expected in the pits (his total stop time was 22.978s) and it then took several laps for the options tyres (the hard compound) to come in properly.
At the end of the lap when Michael re-emerged from the pits ahead of Nico, the gap between the two guys was just 1.3 seconds and their two race engineers reminded them that they were free to race. The only rule: to keep it clean!
Although Nico’s pace was strong, he couldn’t get close enough to Michael to attempt a pass, and Nico finished the race in sixth place…
All in all, the inaugural Indian Grand Prix turned out to be a good one for the team. A double points finish, a fourth top six finish in the last six races and a consolidation of our fourth place in the championship… it was also good to see both our drivers racing at such similar pace and to maximise once more the potential of our current car.
It is fair to say that without the Massa-Hamilton incident, Michael and Nico would have not finished fifth and sixth, but making the most of what’s happening on track always is crucial. More positives also came from the way Michael managed to look after his tyres in the second part of the race. The team worked hard all season to improve the car’s tyre degradation and the last few races showed that, in that regard, our hard work has paid off.
The team will carry the same approach for the final two races of the season, starting with Abu Dhabi next week…