A new track is always a challenge, and this weekend's Indian Grand Prix is no exception. There have been concerns over whether the track will be ready in time, given the experience with the recent Commonwealth Games, and also confusion over the customs and tax position Formula 1 will be placed in. But there's undoubtedly a big enthusiasm for the sport and I'm sure the event will be everything India expects it to be if my experience of demonstrating a Red Bull show car a couple of years ago is anything to go by.
All in the sim
Over the past few years there's been a huge development in simulator programmes, and they are one way of helping a driver learn his way round a track - especially a new one like the Buddh International Circuit. This gives the drivers an idea of how the 20 FIA-prescribed corners (though on average only maybe 12 of them require the driver to actually do something other than steer) will feel, although it has to be said that there is still a massive difference between driving a track on a computer and doing it in real life.
In my opinion, there's no substitute for doing some real laps. I went to a few new circuits during my F1 career and it never used to take me more than 10 laps to get my bearings; I reckon that's the same for most drivers, whether they've been in a simulator or not.
Teams were familiar with Buddh before they even rolled the cars out, thanks to their simulator work © LAT
Simulation is developing all the time, but as tracks evolve year to year there will always be a new bump in the middle of a corner that might cause you to use a different line. A computer can't simulate how the grip levels change on a circuit as the temperature changes or as more rubber goes down - especially important on a new track. But there is still an offset between visual references and sometimes a driver will reference a latest braking point using a change of Tarmac or a specific kerb.
All that said, simulators are an an important part of modern-day F1, and the reason is not just how it helps the drivers coming into a race, but how it helps the teams. It's undeniable that the data that teams can gather from simulator work makes them better prepared for races now than in the past.
I was part of the first simulator programme in F1 with McLaren in the late 1990s, and compared with the technology that's available now, it was a pretty simple visual tool with some vibration built in.
One area where the simulator really can help is with coming up with the optimum gear ratios to run and how KERS and the DRS should be deployed in qualifying, because the strategy you go with can have a massive bearing on your race weekend. Just remember Lewis Hamilton at Monza, where he was on the limiter in seventh for lap after lap behind Michael Schumacher and unable to do anything about the Mercedes because his McLaren hadn't been optimised for overtaking.
The one bad thing about all this simulator work is that new tracks used to be somewhere a smaller team could hit on a good idea and get a much better results than normal. Now, with the bigger teams having better resourced simulators, and therefore better preparation, there's less chance of an upset.
The one thing you don't want to take a chance on in a new country is your health, and that means being very conservative with what you eat and drink.
When I was in India for a Red Bull promotion before I was as sick as a dog - not from food poisoning, but from a kind of flu. I was fortunate not to have anything like that happen when I was racing in Formula 1.
Rumour has it that the Force India team will be providing the team with food from Kingfisher Airlines, which is also owned by Mr Mallya. That's one way of avoiding Delhi belly!
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