F1: Vettel stakes his India claim, nobody watches
Raja Sen brings us all the lowdown from on and off the track at the Indian GP in Greater Noida this weekend.
I confess the first few Friday hours are never an accurate way to judge a Grand Prix, but there is always a smattering of people: students eager to hear that fantastic engine sound, people with tickets considerably cheaper than on Race Day, youngsters keen to see refreshingly reckless driving and high-speed spins, and those who want to see if they can glimpse their favourite drivers. The audience at the Buddh International Circuit this morning, however, was as non-existent as Lewis Hamilton’s title hopes — which is to say seriously slim, with a chance of invisibility.
The race lost nearly 40% of its numbers from the first year to the second, but a look around the ghost-town grandstands this morning signals a devastating fall now: every 700-1000 seats, a clump of a dozen or less sit, most of whom look curious as to what this Formula One thing is all about. Where are the enthusiasts? Watching on TV, perhaps.
Not that any of this acts as a deterrent for the unfairly booed World Champion, Sebastian Vettel. He -- and partner Mark Webber -- fired up the circuit in style, rampaging around with their Red Bull cars.
The difference they have with the rest of the field is astonishing, and it’s probably the imagination (and all the timesheet-topping) but they seem to roar by blindingly fast, galloping noticably quicker than the others even to the naked eye.
Image: Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives during the first practice session of the Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida on Friday
Photographs: Ahmad Masood/Reuters
Alonso's Ferrari had to limp back to the pits after 6 laps because of gearbox woes
Either way, they sound good -- and are clearly used to winning. Vettel’s taken two poles and two wins in the two Indian races so far, and in the first session for this third, potentially final race, he stamped his authority in hard.
Vettel’s 1’26.683 was almost a third of a second quicker than Webber’s 1’26.871, which seemed within reach of Nico Rosberg, who brought his Mercedes in to third with 1’26.899.
The other major players didn’t have the best morning on the track -- Lewis Hamilton might be fifth-fastest but being over half-a-second slower than Vettel is not where he’d like to see his Mercedes; Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari had to limp back to the pits after only 6 laps because of gearbox woes (but still managed 12th fastest); and Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 17th place on today’s sheets, his 1’28.730 over two seconds far from Vettel -- and, uncharacteristically, 1.7 seconds off Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean, who was fourth-fastest today.
Poised a breath away from his fourth successive World Championship, it is possible the increasingly great Sebastian Vettel doesn’t care as much about the crowds and the boos. Or maybe -- an alarming thought to his rivals -- they spur him on to even greater invincibility. Somewhere, the Germanic focus kicks in and he bolts off, hammering in faster lap after faster lap, even when he’s safe, even when it’s unnecessary, even when it doesn’t count. Because men who fly can only care that much about men who can’t.
Image: Fernando Alonso
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters