Slater: Friday testing crucial in India

ESPN STAR Sports' Formula 1 expert Steve Slater offers his view on the upcoming Indian Grand Prix.

Steve Slater

Keep a particular look-out on the results of the second and third free practice sessions on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning at the Buddh International Circuit. They could both give a clue to both the result of the weekend's race and the final destiny of the 2012 world championship.

After the first 90 minute session using only the harder compound tyres, the second and third test sessions of each Grand Prix weekend are the first times that the teams get to use the two different tyre compunds offered by Pirelli. This weekend the teams will use the P Zero Yellow soft and P Zero Silver hard tyre compounds, creating a two-step difference in tyre compounds available.

The softer tyres generate more grip giving lap times around 1.2 and 1.4 seconds faster than the harder tyres. However tyre wear may be the defining issue on the softer tyres, as the fast, swooping Buddh International Circuit places notable cornering loads on hard-pressed tyres.

Nine of the ten corners between Turns 5 and 14 are taken between 200 and 250 kph, generating a g-loading up to 3.8 times the force of gravity. The double right-hander at Turns 10 and 11 is particularly stressful because the cars spend a sustained 8.2 seconds generating cornering load.

In Korea, while Vettel's pace made his victory look like a walk-over, in the closing stages his tyres hard worn to such an extent that his Red Bull team was unsure he would make the finish. One team insider later described the situation as "going beyond our limits of knowledge, then some."

Fortunately for Vettel, the gamble paid off. The German's victory moved him ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Championship standings for the first time this season.

This weekend, a similar result would offer the perfect scenario for Vettel to extend his championship lead. Alonso and Ferrari ideally need to attack, but until the test sessions it seems uncertain whether they have the ability to match the pace of the charging Red Bulls.

While the chances of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button now winning the 2012 championship are now only a distant mathematical probability, both the McLaren drivers could still play a role in the championship. If as many expect the Red Bulls are set for victory in India, the prospect of either McLaren driver pushing Alonso off the podium would be the worst case scenario for the Spaniard's title hopes.

Alternatively, a repeat of Red Bull's tyre wear issues in Korea may just give Ferrari and Alonso their best chance of the championship fight back.

On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning therefore, watch out for the teams doing extended runs to see how both the hard and soft tyre compounds compare, monitoring both the wear levels and the rate of deterioration in lap times as the tyres age. That as much as the fastest laps set in simulated qualifying runs at the end of the session, will give us the best idea of Sunday's winner.

These runs are just as important in the mid-field too, not least where Force India are battling to close on Sauber in the constructor's championship. The past weeks have seen a cloud cast over team owner Vijay Mallya's image in his homeland by the failure of his Kingfisher airline.

This weekend may give him the chance to save face. His cars seem capable of a top ten result, supported by the performance of both Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta last weekend in Korea.

However di Resta well knows the tyre challenge ahead. Last year he looked set to score points, but dropped to 13th after being forced to make a third pit stop: "We found last year that the grip built up quite quickly and the track is exciting to drive. I remember that tyre wear was quite high last year, so understanding the tyres on Friday will be the priority."

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