The Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida for the Grand Prix (GP) of India is a mix of fast and slow corners, with each corner featuring either a downhill or an uphill slope, with a straight stretch that’s over 1km long, one of the longest in the Formula One (F1) calendar, where cars can hit up to 320 kmph.
“This mix of corners in itself is a challenge, you need a car that’s fast on the straight, but has great downforce and grip on the corners,” says F1 driver Karun Chandhok of Team Lotus.
Turns 3, 4, 16 are extra wide to promote overtaking, according to the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s (FIA’s) new policy to make races more exciting, so expect to see a lot of jostling at these turns.
Karun Chandhok: Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images
Chandhok’s favourite parts of the track are turns 10 and 11.
“It’s an uphill parabolic turn which you have to take blind,” Chandhok says, “and then there’s a right-hand corner where you approach at 250 kmph, and take the turn at 200 kmph. You really have to believe in yourself and your car to go through that.”
At some corners, drivers face 4-5G (g-force) of pressure, which means the body feels the weight equivalent of four-five times that of gravity due to the acceleration.
“If your head weighs 5kg, at 4G, it becomes a 20kg weight,” says Chandhok. “Imagine trying to move your head with two 10kg dumb-bells stuck to the sides of your head while controlling a car at 200 kmph!”
The twists in the track
When you are inside the cockpit of an F1 car, there really is just one fundamental question—just how well can you handle the twists and turns of the track?
“Even an amateur driver can hit 300-320 kmph in an F1 car on a long, wide stretch of road. It’s what you do at the corners that makes you an F1 driver,” says Chandhok.
Cornering is an exacting skill that can be simplified by breaking it down into three parts: the turn-in point, apex and exit. The turn-in point is where you start braking and turning the wheel; the apex may or may not be the geometric centre of the corner, but it’s the point where you begin easing out on the brake; and the exit point is where the car is straightened out and the throttle is released.
To make sure you are turning at the optimum speed without losing control of the car, you need to pick a braking point before the turn that’s millimetre perfect. “Then you go down hard on the brake pedal at that point,” says Chandhok. “When we push on the brake, we are exerting the equivalent of 120kg of weight on the pedal with just one foot. Through the noise of the engine, the incredible heat inside the cockpit, the g-force, the blur of speed—your mind needs to be cool, cold even, to execute turns perfectly.”
“Where will you brake? Where will you turn the wheel? How much will you turn? Where will you accelerate? It’s this combination that makes a good driver,” says Chandhok.
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Decoding the circuit
F1 champion team Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who won four races in 2010 and finished third in the Drivers’ Championship that season, has gone through the Buddh International Circuit several times on a simulator to get ready for the race. He breaks down the driving strategy for the track:
Blind apex corner—one of the most important corners of the track to get right because it leads on to the long straight, where you want to reach your top speed as quickly as possible.
Mark Webber: Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images .
We will hit a top speed of around 315 kmph.
One of the slowest corners on the track, I think. We’ll approach this at probably 315 kmph, brake at the 100m board and go around the corner at 100 kmph. We’ll probably pull around 4.5G under brakes and 2G around the corner. This is also a crucial overtaking area because it’s a wide corner.
Turns 8, 9, 13, 14
Very fast chicanes (back-to-back turns in opposing directions), so they will be pretty impressive on the g-forces because of the fast change of direction. We’ll probably pull around 4G. Speed-wise, we’ll be going around 240-260 kmph.
Turns 10, 11
It’s always a good feeling in an F1 car to have elevation changes on a track, as in many cases, it gives you a good sensation of speed. But when elevation is combined with a section of track with corners, this can make our job more difficult, although very rewarding too.
Turns 15, 16
The penultimate corner is pretty blind, so you’ll need to be accurate with turn-in points, and turn 16 is again a wide corner, so it will be a crucial overtaking area.
Graphic by Jayachandran/Mint