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 Grand Prix - 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.