Sebastian Vettel did on Saturday what he always does in India: Put his Red Bull ahead of everyone else on the starting grid. After topping the three practice sessions,he gave such a domineering performance in qualifying that one wondered if only Vettel could have beaten himself today.
In a way he actually did.
In completing what was his hat-trick of poles at the Indian Grand Prix,the German also posted the fastest time ever recored across three years. The 1:24.119s he took in Q3 shaved 1.164s from the 1:25.283s he set in 2012. Nico Rosberg completed the front row,having taken 0.752s more,while Lewis Hamilton (1:24.941s) finished third,0.106s ahead of Mark Webber as the two Mercedeses parked themselves between the Red Bulls.
Championship contender (strictly mathematically speaking) Fernando Alonso of Ferrari endured another frustrating qualification session as he finished eighth,behind teammate Felipe Massa,Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg,and a whopping 1.707s behind Vettel. Should Alonso trail Vettel by this margin per lap tomorrow,he will end up 1:42.42s behind Vettel. In other words,forget pole position,were you to let Alonso complete one full lap in the GP before unleashing Vettel,the German would still overtake the Spaniard in the 53rd lap before going on to pip him to the post by a full 12 seconds.
The fact that Vettel wasn’t so much as even stretched on way to his back-to-back wins here after starting from pole,and that he has converted five of his six previous top grid positions this year into wins,could lead one into believing that the result is foregone. But is it,really? Is the race over even before it has started?
Formula One is everything but a mathematical formula that you simply apply and get the results. We haven’t factored in the variables,certainly not the biggest of them all: the tyres. The sport isn’t all about opening the throttle and going flat out. To make it interesting and slightly more even,there’s the concept of pit stops,where strategy and planning come into play. One needs a perfect pit strategy to deliver results. Earlier,cars used to stop for fuel and a change of tyres. Nowadays,with a ban on refuelling,the focus is completely on the tyres. To the uninitiated all tyres may look the same,but the stuff they are made of varies greatly. The two types of tyre that are being used in the Indian GP are ‘soft’ and ‘medium’.
The softs give a car pace but deteriorate quickly,while the mediums will be slower but more durable. Add to this the rules that a) a driver needs to start on the same set of tyres he used in Q3 to set the grid time,and b) both types of tyres need to be used during the race.
And now,let’s look back at the qualifying results again: Vettel,Rosberg and Hamilton all qualified with the softs; Webber and Alonso posted their times on the mediums. If they can gain track positions at the start,and the cars with the softs pit early,it may not be as straightforward a race as a casual look at the starting grid would suggest.
That said,Vettel doesn’t need to win the race to lift his fourth consecutive championship. All he needs is to finish in the top five,and no strategy seems potent enough to prevent him from doing so.
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