FORMULA ONE / Title race is mainly between the German and Alonso

After the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month, where Fernando Alonso failed to last beyond the second turn of the opening lap as a result of his collision with Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, the Spaniard had remarked that the final five races of the season are like a “mini championship” to him. And going by his own analogy, Alonso is down by a round.

On top of the leader board until the previous race in Korea, the Ferrari frontman was jolted at Yeongam, his lead completely wiped out, as his nemesis in 2010, Sebastian Vettel, took position at the top.

Vettel’s lead over Alonso in the championship race might not be daunting, but the six-point gap he has opened up at the top is the kind of impetus the Red Bull driver will be happy with, going into the final stages of the season. With three successive victories (in Singapore, Japan and Korea) under his belt — the only driver to do so this season — the German is expected to win the Grand Prix of India at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, again this year.

Vettel, however, was not keen on predicting the outcome of the race. He would rather concentrate on the two free practice sessions scheduled for Friday. “I’d rather focus on the task I have on hand,” he said. “We need to make the best out of the practice sessions tomorrow.” After the Korean Grand Prix, Vettel had urged his team to come up with some more upgrades for the Grand Prix of India. “We have a few updates in place and would like to see how our car responds to them tomorrow,” he said.

Like Vettel, Alonso too was cagey about his chances in the championship, though he believed it would be a straight fight between him and the defending champion for the 2012 title. But talking of the immediate weekend, Alonso was of the view that it could be very tough. “The whole season has been unpredictable. With not many races left, everybody will be pushing hard here. So, I expect it to be a close race,” he said.

Meanwhile Raikkonen’s presence in the mix points to a great finish this season. The thrilling victory he pulled off in the final race of the season to win the 2007 world title is still fresh in our memory. When asked if he really fancied his chances this year, the Lotus driver said, “Yeah, of course. In 2007, I knew I had a car that could win, but right now we are not the fastest, so we need more help to really win. But we’ll keep trying and hopefully we can achieve it. We’ll try until there’s no chance...”

Differing views

The drivers are at variance while predicting how the Buddh circuit would behave. While some expect it to be very swift on the curves, others think it would be between medium-fast and fast. But they are clearly not sure of the grip. And heightening the suspense is Pirelli’s decision to use a softer compound for the tyres here. So, the two practice sessions tomorrow and the third on Saturday morning will be crucial.

Interestingly, the kerbs on Turn Five and Turn Six at the Buddh circuit have been extended with patches of artificial turf. This should prevent cars swerving out of line from churning up dust which was a big problem for drivers last year.

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