India brings another new challenge in F1

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
9:27
PM ET
Buddh International CircuitManan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Buddh International Circuit is ready for its debut on the Formula One calendar.

Looking back, the 2004 season was a defining year in Formula One's history, in more ways than one.

Not only did it mark the final season of Michael Schumacher's dominant run, it ushered in a completely new era of F1, one which witnessed new venues appearing throughout the calendar.

From 1998 through 2003, Malaysia was the lone new venue added to the calendar, not including tracks such as Indianapolis, which had previously hosted F1 events.

But since 2004, fans have seen nine new locales added through 2012, with more scheduled in the coming seasons. Indeed, on next year's calendar alone, five of the final seven races did not exist prior to 2008.

With the announcement of an F1 event planned for northern New Jersey in 2013, the United States presumably received another large boost, considering Austin is set to debut next year.

It is also a clear indication that F1 is committed to continuously adding new venues worldwide.

India this weekend is one of those new circuits, and due to its late completion, many teams are left guessing in a few areas.

Jenson Button, who sits second in the drivers' championship, described the new track to reporters.

"The track itself has quite a nice mix of corners," he said. "The start of the lap is pretty stop-start, there are a couple of long straights mixed with tight hairpins, but it's the end of the lap that's more interesting; there are some pretty high-speed changes of direction through the esses and some gradient change.

"One of the things that looks really interesting is the double-apex banked corner at the back of the circuit -- that's pretty unusual. It's sort of a mix between Turn 13 at China and Korea's Turn 11."

On the 23rd anniversary to the day of Ayrton Senna's first world title, fans in India could be in store for a few milestones. Not only does Sebastian Vettel have a good chance of eclipsing Nigel Mansell's single-season laps led record (set in 1992), but he also may tie Mansell's record of nine wins from pole in a year.

Chances are Vettel will be on pole this weekend, as he claimed the top spot in qualifying last year in Korea's inaugural grand prix.

Remarkably, that event was the last time Vettel failed to score points, meaning he's collected points in 18 straight races. If he notches points in India, it would move him into second on the list of longest streaks in F1 history, behind only Schumacher's run of 24 between 2001 and 2003.

Vettel's season has understandably overshadowed the rest of the F1 community, but several other top drivers in the sport have arguably improved over last year at this point.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso has seen his wins total drop significantly, but through 16 events, he has earned more points than last season. Both McLaren drivers, Button and Lewis Hamilton, have a higher points total through 16 races compared with 2010.

Of the three, Button has shown the most improvement this year. In his sophomore season with McLaren, his three victories are the second most he's ever earned in a single season, and his nine podiums match that of his 2009 title run.

With one more podium finish, he'll match his career best of 10, set back with BAR in 2004. Since Hungary, he's earned 113 points while Vettel has put up 133. No other driver has more than 82 in that span.

Clearly, Button has been Vettel's biggest challenger recently, and could very well play that role again Sunday.

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