Greater Noida: Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel will once again be the cynosure when the cars roll out of the pits in the Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC), here, on Sunday afternoon.
After back-to-back races in Japan and Korea, the calendar offered the drivers a bit of respite and an opportunity to recharge batteries but none could do enough to put up a challenge to Vettel.
After emerging the fastest in three practice sessions, the champion driver once again took the pole on Saturday and is now overwhelming favourite to win his fourth consecutive race on Sunday.
The 25-year-old German, who is seeking to become the youngest triple champion in Formula One history, made an error on his first flying lap in the top-10 shootout but responded with a second effort in one minute 25.283 seconds to grab the pole. It was his fifth pole of the season and the 35th of his remarkable career.
Vettel’s flying lap secured him the pole, and he will be joined on the front row by teammate Mark Webber, who was just 0.34s behind.
It is an extremely good result for Vettel since his closest rival in the drivers’ classification, Fernando Alonso, who is just six points behind at 209, will start the race from fifth position behind the two McLaren cars. Lewis Hamilton (1:25.544) was third, followed by Jenson Button (1:25.659).
Vettel later said: “It was a tight session, especially having made a mistake on my first run on Turn Four. All in all it has been a great weekend so far. The boys have been pushing very hard.
“I loved the track layout last year, but not just because I won the race,” the Red Bull driver said.
“With an average speed of 235 km/h, the course is the second quickest of the year after Monza. There is a lot of elevation change around the lap which adds to the fun... it’s like a roller coaster,” said the German.
“It has really emerged as one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar for the drivers,” he added.
The BIC is made up of two long straights and a variety of corners which are demanding for driver and car alike.
The track goes up and down with downhill gradients of eight per cent and uphill ones of 10 per cent and it has a width of up to 20 metres in some areas that make for various overtaking opportunities for the drivers.
Vettel’s Australian partner Webber said: “It wasn’t the smoothest flying lap for Sebastian and me. On the last corner I got a little on the Astroturf on the exit and didn’t have the cleanest run to line. But I’m driving the car!”
The inaugural race was dogged by controversies but this time the organisers are cautious enough not to have a repetition of any such thing. There was a huge hue and cry when a dog entered the track during the practice session last year. This time the volunteers have been asked to be extra vigilant at every gate leading to the track.
Back to the qualifiers, on another near-perfect day at the BIC, where the air temperature hovered around 30 degrees Celsius, the first qualification saw the usual suspects struggling at the back of the field.
The non-qualifiers were led by Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso who was 18th ahead of Vitaly Petrov and his Caterham team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, and Timo Glock of Marussia.
Behind them and also out were the two Hispania drivers Pedro de la Rosa and local hero Indian Narain Karthikeyan, whose great effort in front of his home crowd, could not produce any greater pace from his car.
Eliminated in Q2 were Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Nico Hulkenberg of Force India, Bruno Senna of Williams, Michael Schumacher in the second Mercedes and Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso, Paul Di Resta and Kamui Kobayashi in the second Sauber.