Sebastian Vettel storms to pole position for Indian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has secured his third consecutive pole position at the Indian Grand Prix following an incredible performance that saw him finish over three-quarters of a second clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel came into the weekend boasting a perfect record at Buddh International Circuit, and following his domination of practice, a similar performance in qualifying was far from surprising. Nevertheless, it was a titanic effort from the German driver as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton failed to pose any serious threat, whilst Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso both opted for alternative strategies thus throwing away the opportunity to challenge the soon-to-be four time world champion.

Qualifying got underway in India in a quiet fashion as most drivers opted to wait before setting their first times due to the level of degradation. Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was the first man to post a time, but his lap of 1:27.529 was around one second off the predicted ‘cut off’ time to get into the second session. Nico Rosberg was the first driver to come close to this theoretical time, going fastest whilst both Red Bulls remained in the pits in favor of a later run. When they did emerge, Vettel opted for the medium compound whilst Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso both elected for the softer tire to secure themselves a place in Q2. Alonso went fastest with his first timed lap, but Vettel was just 0.009 seconds slower despite the large pace difference between the compounds. Every other driver except Romain Grosjean opted to run on the soft tire, and this proved to be a costly call for Lotus as the Frenchman lost out to a final flurry of times to be eliminated in Q1. Pastor Maldonado also failed to make it through, joining both Caterhams and both Marussias in the dropzone, but Jules Bianchi finished just 0.128 seconds behind the Williams, suggesting that Marussia have made improvements of late.

Despite the obvious pace difference between the tires, Sauber opted to send Nico Hulkenberg out on the medium compound in order to make up for the time lost in FP3. However, the rest of the runners sensibly took to the soft tires with Fernando Alonso setting the first benchmark of 1:25.546 for the rest of the field, but both Mercedes drivers managed to topple the Ferrari after their first runs. Mark Webber ran very wide on his first lap but managed to go quickest, only for Vettel to beat his time by over half a second on his first soft-tire run of the day. Alonso split the Red Bulls with his final run as the rest of the field looked to get into the top ten, with McLaren running strongly to ease into the final session. However, Daniel Ricciardo was less fortunate to be eliminated in eleventh place ahead of the Force India pair of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, with Jean-Eric Vergne down in fourteenth. Valtteri Bottas also dropped out in P15 and Esteban Gutierrez’s good qualifying form came to an end as he finished down in sixteenth.

Q3 quickly became a question of strategy as the top ten drivers appeared to be unsure which tire to use as they would have to start on that compound in the race. Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren all split their strategy, sending one driver out on each compound, but Vettel looked to continue his 100% pole record in India by going out on the soft tires. Alonso set the first benchmark on the medium tire only for Vettel to go 1.7 seconds quicker on the soft tire with Vettel joining him on the provisional front row. Kimi Raikkonen followed Vettel’s example but was over one second slower. Rosberg and Hamilton were the only drivers to come close on their soft tire runs, qualifying second and third respectively ahead of Webber on the medium compound. Felipe Massa produced a great performance to finish fifth ahead of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg who also qualified on the soft tire. Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Jenson Button completed the top ten on the prime tire, hoping that their strategy will make up for their lack of pace in the race.

At the front though, there appears to be no stopping Sebastian Vettel, and it will take a remarkable performance to stop him from winning the race let alone recording the top five finish he needs to clinch his fourth title.

INDYCAR announces several rules and protocol changes for 2018 season

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The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).

But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.

First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:

* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.

* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.

There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):

  • The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
  • Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
  • The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
  • A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
  • Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
  • INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
  • Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
  • The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both do not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver and driver equivalency weight) – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.