Well, that was certainly a very Sebastian Vettel race. (Speaking of Vettel: he’s now passed Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record for most laps led in a season, or so Martin and David tell me.)
Let’s get this out of the way first: Congratulations to the Indian organizers, and the Buddh International Circuit looks like an outstanding venue for motorsports. As usual, when Tilke has elevation changes to work with, he does a great job. The T1-2-3 and T10-11-12 complexes make me very happy indeed, and I’ll probably come to love the first sector if/when the FIA comes to its senses and ditches DRS.
The problem with the race — that is, if you like to watch a lot of clashes for position — came down to the tires and the track conditions, both of which combined to produce a rather processional race that reminded me of what watching F1 in 2008 was like. The biggest problem was track conditions: the track had barely been used before the race (I think there’d been one or two support races run), so everything off-line was covered with dust and the only rubber build-up was directly on the racing line. In other words, while the tarmac might’ve been incredibly wide at the entry to a number of corners — and that’s going to make for great racing in a few years — the grippy part of the track was only about a car-length wide. Drivers couldn’t try alternate lines through corners to make passes, because there was no grip off-line.
This could have been offset by the sort of tire degradation we saw earlier in the year: if you have no grip because you’re off-line, and the guy you’re chasing has no grip because his tires have fallen off the cliff, you can still pass. But the soft-compound options lasted for well over a dozen laps over and above their use in qualifying, on a full fuel load, and the hard-compound primes didn’t seem to give up enough time to the options to make for interesting strategy. I suppose if Kobayashi hadn’t crashed out at the start we might’ve seen other teams react to his tire choice. (The good news is that it seems Ferrari have come to grips with the harder tires.)
With these two factors in mind, about the only passes we saw were off of the start — including Button’s devastating move against Webber out of T3 — and in the pits. Oh, and cars that were fast in a straight line, like the STRs, had no trouble passing under DRS… but that hardly counts.
We did see Hamilton and Massa come together again — everyone finish your drink — when Hamilton almost got his car up inside Massa’s Ferrari into T5 and (by his own account) couldn’t back out because of the lack of grip off-line. For a while it seemed like cosmic justice would prevail, with Massa continuing in P5 after a short jaunt through the gravel and Hamilton losing places to pit for a new front wing, but then the stewards dropped the hammer on Massa for taking the racing line through a corner he by all rights owned. Then, as ever, Massa’s race went to shit: his “2012-spec” front wing started porpoising laterally, prompting Ferrari to bring him in for a nose change before the FIA black-flagged him, and a few laps later he hit another orange breadbox (as he had in Q3) and snapped a pushrod. Ordinarily I’d quibble with the designers about those things, but only Massa seemed to have any trouble with them.
In other exciting news, Lotus seemed to be on pace with the back-marker midfield teams: Kovalainen finished a lap down from the Renault/Force India/Sauber crowd that seems to be the “midfield” midfield, but kept reasonably on pace with them as the race progressed and fuel burnt off. In the HRTs, Narain Karthikeyan, the only Indian driver to compete in the race (Karun Chandhok drove in practice for Lotus but Trulli took over on Saturday and Sunday), held his own against Ricciardo, himself no particular slouch. Liuzzi’s seat is in trouble.
Next race is in Abu Dhabi, which shows what Tilke can inflict upon us when he doesn’t have elevation to play with.