Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull showed no signs of loosening their grip on the 2013 World Championship as they completed another dominant Friday ahead of this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix.
A KERS issue for Vettel in the opening stages of FP2 was quickly remedied, allowing him to repeat his pace in this morning’s session and complete a clean sweep in Friday practice.
Mark Webber kept the forthcoming four-time Champion honest as he ended both sessions in second place on a weekend that is set to bring the Red Bull team much joy.
But once again Romain Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton in particular are taking the fight to the Red Bulls, with quite tight margins at this stage.
Today’s result leaves the Milton Keynes squad on the front foot, with Vettel needing just a fifth place finish, regardless of Fernando Alonso’s finishing position, to wrap up the title. Whilst the teams Championship should also come without much difficulty as they currently hold a 148 point lead, needing a lead of 129 points heading in to the final three Grand Prix.
Vettel has taken pole and led every race lap around the Buddh International Circuit in its two previous years; last year he was fastest in every track session, a daunting prospect for any competitor hoping to have a chance of victory this weekend. He has also led 52% of all the racing laps this season, so is very much the form man.
Behind Red Bull there is an exciting battle for second and third place in the Constructors’ Championship between Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus. Lotus are in the process of playing catch up on the two ahead, sitting 23-points off third place. But their recent form has been second only to Red Bull and today’s sessions illustrate that they will once again be near the front, particularly on Sunday.
The tyres were a talking point, as the left front tyre in particular on the soft compound graining badly after a few laps. But several drivers managed to get them to go through that phase and stabilise. A first stint of around 12-14 laps looks possible for the race as part of a two stop strategy. For drivers starting outside the top ten, using the medium tyre for the first stint could make for a challenging strategy.
A one-stop race is foreseeable for some and Lotus have a car that is able to make its tyres last the duration, unlike Mercedes who may be forced in to two stops.
The Mercedes pair have looked competitive on the medium tyre over a single lap run, but were unable to maintain that pace over a race stint. Whilst Lotus were once again able to show consistent pace during the longer runs as the session reached its end.
Kimi Raikkonen has admitted that his one lap pace must improve if he is to have a chance of winning again in his final four races with Lotus. But eighth place and a spin gave signs that the Finn is not fully comfortable at this point in the weekend.
Sergio Perez and Jenson Button completed the top ten for McLaren, ending the day just over a second from Vettel’s pace. However, with Vettel half a second quicker than Grosjean in third, the McLaren pairing will be satisfied to be within touching distance of the leading four teams.
James Calado took the place of Paul Di Resta in the Force India for FP1 due to the Scotsman being ill. Calado ended the session half a second adrift of Adrian Sutil, before Di Resta took over this afternoon.
INDIAN GRAND PRIX, New Delhi, Practice
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m25.722s 35
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m26.011s +0.289s 38
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m26.220s +0.498s 36
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m26.399s +0.677s 36
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m26.430s +0.708s 39
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m26.582s +0.860s 40
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m26.601s +0.879s 41
8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m26.632s +0.910s 32
9. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m26.857s +1.135s 40
10. Jenson Button McLaren 1m26.972s +1.250s 39
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m27.304s +1.582s 17
12. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m27.375s +1.653s 36
13. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m27.429s +1.707s 31
14. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m27.491s +1.769s 40
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m27.608s +1.886s 38
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m27.720s +1.998s 23
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m27.949s +2.227s 34
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m28.431s +2.709s 30
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m28.692s +2.970s 39
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m28.799s +3.077s 32
21. Charles Pic Caterham 1m29.366s +3.644s 37
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m30.164s +4.442s 27