Vettel, Alonso in riveting race

The battle between German and Spaniard is set to go down as one of fiercest in history

The teams are in, covers are off, anticipation levels are on the rise even as an impeccable track lay in wait.

Defending champion Sebastian Vettel (left) of Red Bull will look to keep Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso at bay. AP/AFP

The second edition of the much-awaited Indian Grand Prix is all set to kick off here at the Buddh International Circuit on Friday.

With an all-important first free practice session scheduled to start at 10.00 am before the second free practice at 2.00 pm, teams will look to get their telemetry right ahead of Saturday’s qualifying and most importantly the race on Sunday.

On one of the fastest and most wear-inducing tracks this season, Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel, who won the inaugural edition of the Indian GP, will once again be the favourite to call the shots.

Had the Indian GP been held three races ago, odds would have been loaded in favour of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso as he had enjoyed a comfortable lead on the drivers’ championship table. But with wins in Singapore, Japan and Korea, the 25-year-old German is on a hot Asian streak and it looks like he has finally got his act together, while the Ferrari lynchpin has lost considerable ground.

After FIA banned the blown-diffuser for the 2012 season, Vettel was forced to focus on using his driving skills, and while he has had tough time coming to terms with the absence of the aid, the German has shown that he can pull off sensational drives even without any real assistance from the car.

As newer upgrades have flown in since mid-season tests in Mugello, Vettel has gotten faster than most and has also shown improved control.

Relying on pure driving skill is, however, something Alonso is all too familiar with. The Spaniard, who is used to bringing the best out in any machine, once again was tested by the Prancing Horse’s newest car -- F2012 -- early in the season but came out on top with inspirational performances to take a healthy lead by the summer break.

Consistency and class have held him in good stead thus far even if there has been a drop on the performance graph later in the season. However, with four races to go he will need pull up his socks if he still nurses the dream of becoming the youngest triple champion in the history of Formula One.

If at all the Spaniard does intend to switch to a higher gear before the six point deficit is stretched even further by Vettel, he will need to do it at the BIC as the track would suit him more than it would the rest in the fray.

While the tug-of-war continues between the two, former world champion Kimi Raikkonen has been putting up solid performances for Lotus this season and has the potential to pass on Alonso with a couple of wins.

The 33-year-old, on his comeback trail after a stint in the World Rally Championship, has shown that he still has the wherewithal in him to give the best out there a run for their money. The ‘Flying Finn’ hasn’t managed a win all season but has consistently featured on the podium to remain in contention for the second spot on the drivers’ table. He may not be able to read the track -- much like his team-mate Romain Grosjean -- as well as the rest of the grid as it is his first time at the BIC. Still, the frontrunners can ill-afford to take Raikkonen for granted.

These three world champions will be expected to make the best of the readings derived in the days ahead of the race but there is an entire other segment of the grid waiting in line.

Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, potentially Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who are all moving out of their respective teams for the following season, will also be looking to leave behind their mark.

In all, the three days of racing will certainly be of an unprecedented quality.

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