MERCEDES GP PETRONAS: F1 Airtel Grand Prix of India Preview
Formula One drivers take to the Buddh International Circuit for the first time, after nearly a year of track preparations
by John Clark | 25 October 2011
The Formula One drivers will only turn a wheel for the first time at the Buddh International Circuit on Friday morning. But although those practice laps will mark the beginning of a new learning process, the teams and drivers are far from starting from zero when they actually take to the track. Preparations for the race have been underway for nearly a year – and by race day, around one million simulations of the race will already have been completed.
When did the team’s first preparations begin for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix?
The process of preparing for a new race begins with the logistical challenges rather than the technical ones. The team’s travel department conducted a recce of the local area in December 2010, and made hotel reservations shortly afterwards. The logistics crew generally make a visit around nine months ahead of the race, in order to plan the layout of the garage, access routes and storage areas. In terms of technical preparations, these begin with architects’ plans of the circuit. The elevation and camber provided on these are used to construct a basic track map for virtual simulation, around six weeks before the event. This map is gradually improved as more information becomes available from the FIA and the circuit. In recent years, circuits have only been completed very shortly before the first race weekend – and the same is true for the inaugural Indian GP – which means the team cannot make a digitised map of the track. Set-up simulations, which provide the baseline settings for the car at the start of the opening practice sessions, are carried out the week before the event.
What factors are taken into account when devising the baseline set-up?
Circuit characteristics can be distinguished from a basic two-dimensional map. Factors such as downforce levels, braking duty and g-force loadings are all a function of the circuit’s geometry, and basic simulations will provide a direction for those parameters. Initial simulation suggests that the cars will spend around 65% of the lap at full throttle, with the longest full throttle period of 14.5 seconds, between turns three and four. The cars will exceed 285 kph at three points around the lap, while the fastest corner is expected to be turn 12, which is expected to be taken at 255 kph. The maximum g-loading around the circuit is expected to be 4.0 G, at Turns 5, 9 and 11.
How is the driver-in-the-loop simulator used before the event?
The basic nature of the track map means that the simulator can only be used for basic familiarisation with the circuit, because the track map is not detailed enough to include information such as bumps and kerbs which influence set-up tuning. The team will generally complete around 100 laps (nearly two race distances) in the simulator, programmed with a variety of fuel loads and grip levels, to ensure as many possible scenarios as possible are covered. In addition to using the driver-in-the-loop simulator, the team conducts strategy simulations to analyse as many race outcomes as possible. By race day, we will have performed around one million iterations of the potential race, which are used to inform decisions about how to approach qualifying and the race itself.
What preparation do the drivers have to do for a new circuit?
Like with other circuits, they must be familiar with the KERS deployment schedule (when KERS is deployed to the greatest performance advantage around the circuit), the DRS zones and also the pit-entry and exit lines, for speed limiter activation and deactivation. In terms of learning the circuit, the drivers will conduct their usual track walk on Thursday to inspect it on foot, and potentially note specific signs and markings that they will need to be aware of when in the car. In terms of learning the circuit, this is an ongoing process through the weekend, as grip levels increase, and the team structures its practice programmes to give the drivers maximum time to familiarise themselves with the intricacies of the layout.
Which track does the new Buddh International Circuit most resemble?
The circuit has similarities to Turkey, with a long main straight and a very long, sweeping corner (Turns 10 and 11) that resembles the triple-apex Turn Eight in Turkey. However, while Turn Eight was taken with an average corner speed of 270 kph, in India the corners are expected to be taken at 170 kph (Turn 10) and 210 kph (Turn 11) respectively. The lap time and speed will be very much dependent on the grip level achieved by the Pirelli tyres on the new asphalt surface. A lap time of 1:25.000 would correspond to an average lap speed of 218 kph, while a lap time of 1:30.000 would equate to an average lap speed of 205 kph.
2011 Indian Grand Prix Preview Interview
“For the next race, we are heading to India for the first time; a country which a lot of people tell me is fascinating. I’m looking forward to experiencing this new culture and seeing the track for the first time. I am sure we will be impressed with what has been done there. There has been a lot of interest in the build-up to the event, and therefore hopefully we will entertain a lot of new fans in India. I’ve always been happy to welcome new tracks on the calendar and enjoy the challenge of adapting to them. The outcome of the last race in Korea was unlucky for us, therefore I am extra-motivated to score some points next weekend, and reward the good work of the team.”
“This will be my first visit to India, and it will be very exciting for me to discover the new culture. I am planning to spend a few days in the country and looking forward to doing some sightseeing, particularly making a visit to the Taj Mahal. I hope the first race in India will be a great show for all motorsport fans there, and a big success. I enjoy going to new tracks for the first time as I tend to learn them quickly, and it will be very interesting to set the car up as there will be so many unknown points. I hope to be able to fight in amongst the top six cars again, like during the last race in Korea, but this time hopefully I will be able to stay ahead of one of them until the end of the race.”
Ross Brawn, Team Principal
“The Indian Grand Prix will be a new adventure for Formula One, and we are all looking forward to experiencing the country and the Buddh International Circuit for the first time next week. A tremendous amount of work has gone into the new venue and the preparations for this inaugural event, and the interest in India seems to be growing daily. In the second most populous country in the world, this can only be good for Formula One as we continue to expand our fan base by taking the sport to new markets. The circuit itself looks to be an interesting challenge and we have been preparing back at the factory with circuit maps, simulations and models. You can do a great deal of work beforehand but nothing replicates the feedback from the drivers on their first laps out on the new circuit on Friday. With just three races remaining, we will be aiming to finish the season on a high and pushing hard to score good points at each one.”
Norbert Haug, Vice-President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
“MERCEDES GP PETRONAS is pleased and proud to be part of Formula One’s visit to India and its inaugural Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit. India is a country with a rich cultural heritage which is admired and respected across the world, and it is also a country of the future: there is a vibrant, growing economy and, for Mercedes-Benz, a rapidly accelerating market for our cars. The Buddh International Circuit promises to deliver the excellent facilities we are used to at the most modern Formula One venues. It presents a complete challenge to the cars with a range of faster and slower corners, as well as long straights that may make the compromise between downforce and straightline speed delicate to find. On the operational side, a new circuit levels the playing field somewhat between the teams and all of us must start from zero; however, it does provide an opportunity for our race team’s operational excellence to pay dividends. We saw some signs of promising potential in the early stages of the last race in Korea, although this did not ultimately translate into the final results. But we will be aiming to build on this potential in India, and our team will keep pushing at every race this year to extract the maximum from our current technical package.”