Indian Grand Prix 2012 Preview: F1 action returns to India; crucial race for Vettel and Alonso
Greater Noida: As the title race for the 2012 Formula One season has almost turned into a clash between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, separated by just six points, the two drivers would look to strengthen their positions when they hit the track at the Indian Grand Prix here on Sunday.
A hat-trick of victories -- at Singapore, Japan and Korea -- has catapulted the defending champion Vettel to the top of the drivers` table with 215 points, reviving his aspirations for his third straight title.
Red Bull`s Vettel got back his pace and rhythm after the summer break and has opened up a narrow lead over Ferrari`s Alonso, who has been the most consistent driver of the season.
Had it not been for retirements in Belgium and Japan, Alonso could have been placed in a much better position. With nine podium finishes, including three victories, Alonso has always looked a force to beat this season.
With just four races to go, a good result at the Buddh International Circuit on Sunday would do a world of good to both Vettel and Alonso and further spice up the title race.
Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen is third with 167 points, followed by McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton (153) and Mark Webber (152) in the second Red Bull.
Unlike the last year, the championship is still alive at this stage of the season, which threw seven different winners in the first seven races, including a surprise Pastor Maldonado of Williams.
Vettel, who won the inaugural Indian GP, is on the cusp of a historic hat-trick of Formula One world titles. The German has a chance to become F1`s youngest treble champion.
He would join Michael Schumacher and the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio if he claims his third straight world title at the age of just 25.
And the German racer knows that it could boil down to the last race of the season just like in 2010 when he won his maiden championship on the last day of the calendar.
"As for the championship, it`s tough but that`s what it is about. I`m looking forward to the next couple of races. We had a good last couple of races but you know, we`ve seen the championship is pretty much up and down, a lot of things can happen. What do we do? I think we have to focus on ourselves; we need to have our best possible results and then we go from there," Vettel said.
It will also be the last time when Indian fans will get to see the legendary Schumacher race in the country. The seven-time world champion will say good bye to F1 at the end of the season, which like his comeback with Mercedes, has been far from exciting and fruitful.
The German, who dominated the F1 world with seven titles and record 91 victories, has failed to win a single race in his second stint.
A third place at European Grand Prix this season has been his best result in his comeback. He has struggled with the pace of his car but now that he has nothing to lose, it gives him the luxury of racing without any pressure in the remaining four races.
This race is also crucial for the home team Sahara Force India, who are locked in a good battle with Sauber for the sixth position at constructors` table.
Force India, lying seventh in the table, are trailing Sauber by 27 points and realistically the lead is too difficult to surmount. The team is aiming to get both the cars in the top-10 at this race. Last year, Adrian Sutil had finished ninth here.
Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta have said that they will try to make their home race special for the fans by getting a big result.
The two drivers have done well this season, recording their career-best fourth positions at Belgium and Singapore.
For Narain Karthikeyan, the only Indian driver in F1, a finish inside top-20 would be a good result considering the issues he has with his HRT car. He had finished 17th last year and wants to better his performance before the home crowd.
From the organisational point of view, the Jaypee Sports International (JPSI) had delivered a fantastic race in 2011 and they are expected to do better, having modified the facilities a bit.
The drivers had admired the circuit and even termed it as one of the most challenging, but there were complaints of dust on it. The organisers have tried to make it a dust-free facility and the drivers will find a lot of greenery around the BIC.
The circuit has one of the longest straights in F1 and has a 62 per cent capacity for Drag Reduction System (DRS) in qualifying just like Spa-Francorchamps.
To add to the overtaking options, there will be extended DRS zone this time around. Besides the original DRS zone that runs along the full length of the start-finish straight, the second zone between Turns 3 and 4 has been extended by 80 metres.