Vettel on pole at Indian Grand Prix

mwebber2013

But tire strategy could put Webber ahead.

It should come as no surprise that for the 2013 Indian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel has once again put himself on pole position. From its first iteration in 2011, Vettel has been on pole each time, set the fastest lap each year,  and has lead every single lap to date. History suggests that tomorrow we are unlikely to see anything different than the overwhelming Red Bull and Vettel dominance at the Buddh International Circuit, but there are a few details that might make this year’s race a little different.

Before we get to qualifying positions and all that good stuff, news flashes regarding Pirelli. Already under fire for bringing their two softest compounds this weekend, Pirelli made a statement Saturday vowing to leave Formula 1 unless the FIA allows preseason testing. This is bound to create quite a stir in the paddock, but Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery backs the decision. “We have to do some testing. If we can’t, we won’t be able to provide the tires.” Hembery explained that for the tires to be optimal for the 2014 season changes, Pirelli must test over the winter on current cars. However, with the season still underway and early season testing at Jerez in February, the timeline looks doubtful.

Saturday’s qualifying was thankfully incident free, and Saturday’s Free Practice 2 was nearly the same. WilliamsPastor Maldonado was fined 60,000 euro over a lose wheel nut which flew off during FP2 on Friday. This incident is the second in two weeks for Maldonado, as he lost a wheel nut in Japan in an identical scenario. Otherwise, there were no retirements or accidents, but many drivers seem to be pushing the limit and sliding around on all the curbs in Sector 2.

The Mercedes‘ of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will follow Vettel’s pole position. Both cars seemed to be on pace, ironing out a few balance issues in preparation for Sunday, but Hamilton seemed expectedly nervous and displeased with his car. Vettel, Rosberg, and Hamilton all qualified on the supersoft compound, while Red Bull #2 Mark Webber utilized a different tire strategy and qualified on the prime tire. This decision may put Webber on top of the podium Sunday afternoon. Although his starting laps may be slower, as long as he maintains position he will be able to run his harder compound further into the race while the frontrunners dive into the pits.

Behind Webber on row 3 is Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and LotusKimi Raikkonen. Massa, arguably driving for his chance to stay in Formula 1, has out-qualified his world champion teammate in 4 of the last 5 grand prix, however Fernando Alonso has finished ahead of Massa in all of those races, most of the time on the podium.

Speaking of Alonso, he’ll be starting behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who has come alive in the past few races. Due to a new aero setup on the Sauber, Hulkenberg has become a Q3 staple as of late, and a tough competitor well into the grand prix. In Korea, Hulkenberg fought valiantly and finished just off the podium, having held off Alonso, Hamilton, Rosberg, and the McLaren of Jenson Button.

Button will start behind fellow McLaren teammate Sergio Perez on row 5, wrapping up the Q3 starters. Saturday marked the first time all year that a McLaren managed to get to the top of the Qualifying board, a dreadful reminder of poor performance this year, but perhaps a sign of good race pace going into Sunday.

Towards the middle, Sahara Force India was relegated once again to Q2, with Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil starting in 12th and 13th spots, respectively. The team will be hoping to make a strong showing at their home grand prix. And at the very back of the pack, a usual frontrunner of late, Romain Grosjean will be starting from a dreadful P17. Lotus ended their run in Q1, expecting Grosjean’s time to stand up against the field, however at the very last moment he was bumped out by the second Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.

This has been a largely uninteresting and technical synopsis, hopefully the race will be a little more eventful, but before tomorrow… a few words on our Champion-to-be, Sebastian Vettel. Watching everyone moving around the track, fighting for grip, and generally slipping all four wheels occasionally off the track made me realize how good of a driver and car combination Vettel possesses. For those that insist Vettel is only as good as his car – your wrong. The Red Bull chassis has proven to be the best around, but just watching Vettel put in fast lap after fast lap is truly tremendous. On Saturday, every single driver on the field looked twitchy, looked strained, and some, like Kimi Raikkonen, looked absolutely on the limit to get their qualifying time in. Vettel is different. Vettel always looks calm and never hints that he is out of control. Watching back to back laps of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel defined that point for me. Although a fantastic driver, Webber looked a little shaky at points, sometimes even putting three or four wheels off the track. Vettel looked shaky once, on his last lap, already having topped the charts, and then quickly into the pits.

The hype is real. Like him or not, Sebastian Vettel has the talent and will win this championship. Having the best car isn’t everything, and you certainly don’t win three championships in a row without having a special talent.

What should we expect for tomorrow? Will Webber shake things up with his tire strategy? Will Grosjean fight his way up from 17th to make a podium finish? Hopefully it’ll be a nail biter.

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About zdoell

Graduate of Ithaca College, rowing coach, car fanatic.

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