Who can stop Red Bull in India? Hmmm…good question.

For anyone who has read this blog, you would have noticed my attempt to be more regular with it recently. I was not able to do so yesterday. I had decided to take a partial break from work (checking in everyday since Sep. 20) and accompany a couple of friends on a road trip to Agra where we met up to celebrate another friend of ours turning 30 (he was pretty ‘bummed’ about it).

I was worried about missing an eventful Korean Grand Prix but as it turned out it was pretty much business as usual for Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing. In the twilight of their involvement with Michael Schumacher Mercedes AMG were expected to be a factor but the live timing nipped that hope in the bud.

Let it be known, however, that this is no rant against Vettel and Red Bull’s return to dominance of Formula 1. On the balance of it, this season has been anything but a forgone conclusion and Vettel stands on the brink of joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Schumacher in the title hat-trick club. The young German will be the youngest in that club by far and has dug deep to capitalize on the recent run of bad luck for Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

The RB8 has looked dominant in the hands of Vettel over a single lap at both Suzuka and Yeongam, so there seems little to suggest that the fast and flowing Buddh International Circuit will not suit that combo.

Last year’s Indian GP was a battle between Vettel and McLaren’s Jenson Button as the latter excelled thanks in large part to his renowned smooth driving style. The section of the circuit that contains the rapid changes of direction from turns six to nine plays the biggest part in getting a lap around the 5.125km circuit right. Red Bull, with their indirectly blown diffuser – exhausts that use the Coanda effect (look it up) to channel gases to the diffuser to increase downforce – that they have worked on since the start of the season seem best prepared to tackle it but Button should excel here once again.

Will it be enough to beat Vettel and Red Bull though? Two factors could decide the outcome.

One is the fact that Red Bull’s parent company has enough money to promote the FIA World Rally Championship from 2013 as well as have the makings of its own space program (Google Felix Baumgartner) as well as sponsor and promote athletes and sporting events the world over. A revenue of 4.2 billion euros and an operating income exceeding a billion euros should allow for plenty of development of its F1 title challenger as well while working on their 2013 machine.

The second is that despite a much welcome cool down of the climate in the National Capital Region, track temperature during the race (scheduled to start at 3:00pm) should remain on the high side. Most likely above 35 degrees centigrade, possible even inching towards 40. After the inaugural event Pirelli has decided to bring its hard and soft compound tyres, leaving a gap in tyre choice as the medium compound tyre will not be used. The track surface is smooth but the combination of a softer, more ‘aggressive’ compound and fairly high track temperatures will play into the hands of a driver with a car that is easy on its tyres. That places Vettel and Red Bull as favourites.

Both McLaren drivers should be able to give it their all too, with Button presumably better over a race distance than Hamilton. In the ‘outside chance’ category Ferrai should be in pole position as you never discount Fernando Alonso. One also wonders if the Sauber drivers will be in the hunt for a late race charge with a longer stint on their tyres than anyone else.

Unfortunately, Mercedes seem ill-equipped to help Schumacher and Nico Rosberg to spring a surprise. The car is still hard on its tyres and its famed straight-line speed seems to have been eclipsed by Toro Rosso over the last two races. So the seven-time champion whose exploits and misadventures helped establish F1 as a fixture on Sunday television in India may not have a particularly happy swansong.

Long story short, it seems unlikely that anyone will stop Vettel and Red Bull at the Indian GP.

And to the neutral, it will seem like a shame that the season that started with such uncertainty now has an all too familiar feel to it.

Standard aerodynamics, budget caps and customer cars anyone?

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About Vinayak Pande

Journalist at autoX magazine.
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