Inevitable change

Sebastian Vettel returns to the Buddh International Circuit under vastly different circumstances

Inevitable change

A lot can happen to anyone in one year. A lot more can happen in that exact time-frame to someone in Formula One. One particular driver from the 24-driver line up who can vouch for that fact is strangely someone who doesn’t even look like -- or act for that matter – like a Formula One driver.

With no real regard for how dishevelled his hair is, nor for how he could potentially choke on spraying too much champagne down his throat when atop the podium, Sebastian Vettel has chalked up not one but two Formula One titles since making a humble debut in 2007 with BMW Sauber.

What is noteworthy is how year after year, the ‘Heppenheim Howler’ has climbed up the table and made the fraternity remember his name. Armed with nothing but a couple of weak arms, an even weaker-looking torso and an obsession to make it big, the Red Bull driver managed to hold his own until 2010 when he edged out Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for his first crown – the youngest ever by an F1 driver to date.

A year later, he backed that performance up with what one could only term as ‘Schumacheresque’ as he dominated tracks around the world to claim his second title with four races remaining in the season. The previous season will go down in history as one of the most one-sided in the 62-editions of the FIA event after Michael Schumacher’s 13-race-winning show in 2004 for Ferrari.

It’s been a year since Vettel ran riot, and as expected things were bound to change but even Vettel would not have seen this one coming. Driving alongside five other former champions – Schumacher, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikikonen, Fernando Alonso — Vettel had a lot to live up to, but from the onset, things were out of hand.
The opening seven races of the season produced seven different winners with Vettel notching his first victory at Bahrain, the fourth race of the season.

He had to wait another nine races before raising his index finger – which had stood out like a sore thumb in the faces of other drivers in 2011 -- once again, but when that win did come at the Singapore Grand Prix, something changed.

The German, who was once referred to as ‘Baby Schumi’ before he turned into ‘Alpha Vettel’, made the most of genius director Adrian Newey’s well-thought out upgrades and came up with a significantly improved tyre-wear and pit stop strategy to call the shots as he won the Japanese Grand Prix and the Korean Grand Prix with stunning drives.

The 25-year-old may have only dominated qualifying at only one of the tracks – Suzuka --  in the last three races, but in the end 75 points from three races and the championship lead with four races to go matters much more than starting off from the top of the grid or on the right side of the racing line.

Unlike last year at the same stage, where his nearest competitor and team-mate Mark Webber was 140 points behind, Vettel has to contend with Ferrari’s Alonso, who now trails by a mere six points going into the second edition of the Indian Grand Prix.

Last season, at the Buddh International Circuit’s debut race, Vettel put on an almost robotic show to clinch the pole and completed a ‘Grand Chelem’ (perfect weekend) by winning the inaugural race. And what’s better, he clocked the fastest lap on the final lap even as team principal Christian Horner begged of him to slow down on the radio as he had opened up an eight-second gap over second-placed Button and a 23-second lead over Alonso, who finished third.

However, this time in Greater Noida, Vettel won’t go out there and prove to the world that he is the fastest man on the circuit. He won’t be trying to stamp his authority as much as he would try and remain in control of the championship lead. For the first time in twelve months, he won’t be without any pressure.

Four races, a hundred points and the possibility of becoming the youngest triple champion in the history of the sport is a lot to deal with even if you were a seven-time world champion, let alone a party-craving youngster.

The other thing that Vettel will have on his mind even if he does put in hours behind a simulator is that the BIC is not the same this time around.

With an eye on making the Grand Prix of India the ‘best’ of the lot, organisers Jaypee Sports International have ironed out the chinks. That usually is a good thing, but when it results in change to the way the track had played out merely a year ago, it will raise an eye-brow or two in the garage.

The one factor that was on everyone’s lips when at the BIC was how dust would affect the cars. Emanating partly from the cement-making machine installed a mere five hundred metres and an arid area that the circuit is surrounded by, dust covered the track and made life difficult for drivers and organisers alike. Braced with the idea of a dust bowl, if Vettel looks back on his lines and tyre strategy from the year that went by, it would prove disastrous for him and beneficial for Alonso.

Between a muscle-memory propelled driver and one who drives as though he is guided by a divine force, it is bound to be a thriller at the BIC… unless Team Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who is driving at this track for the first time, plans to hold on to his reputation of being the ‘first-lap nutcase’ and takes them all out.

Back to the track, other significant changes that Vettel and the rest of the F1 circus will need to pay heed to will be the extended kerbs at turn 6-7 and 8-9. They have been increased from 5M to 15M to ensure the drivers do not go for the shortcuts. And, much to Felipe Massa’s delight, turn eight has been fixed!

Greener, faster, smoother and way more aesthetic, the BIC is all set for another brilliant race. Vettel too will be looking to put on a good run and consolidate his position at the top.

One year is indeed a long, long time in Formula One.

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