Paddock Cat from an Excited India Ahead of an Exciting Weekend of Racing

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The Formula One circus returns to the Buddh International Circuit in Delhi this weekend for round 17 of the 2012 World Championship. Seb Vettel holds the advantage going into the race, having snatched a six-point lead of the drivers’ standings at the last round in Korea, but the pre-race press conferences have been full of bullish talk from all sides.

“We hold the advantage at the moment,” says Vettel, “but it’s not now that counts. We need to hold the advantage after the last race in Brazil, and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

Alonso led the standings for nine races, prior to losing out in Korea, and he enters the Indian GP weekend on the back foot. But he still rates his chances in the title race, having finished third in three of the last four races.

“As a team we have done 16 perfect race weekends this year,” says Fernando. “If we do four more perfect races between now and the end of the year, I’m sure we’ll be fighting for the world championship in Brazil.”

Vettel cannot rely on the help of his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber at this race. The Aussie was emphatic yesterday that he’ll be allowed to win if he’s leading the race from Vettel on the final lap. “Mathematically I can still win the title,” says Mark, “so if I’m leading and Seb’s behind, I’ll win the race. End of story.”

With so many sub plots to the main world championship story line, the foundations are in place for a classic Indian Grand Prix.

Away from the on-track action, F1 is having an easier time at the Buddh International Circuit than last year. The track was finished just days before the inaugural race last year, and it showed. Williams had to kick out some squatters from their hospitality suite when they arrived; there were drainage issues and many of the buildings were unfinished. This year everything is more organised: the hospitality suites are clean and carpeted; all of the buildings are finished and the media have even got a café in which to feed and water themselves.

And it would seem there’s been a bigger buy-in from the local media this year. That might be due in part to the recent rise of Monisha Kaltenborn. The Sauber team principal was born in Dehradun, Northern India, and the Indian press have been kept busy while she’s in town. She conducted four hours of media interviews on Wednesday, and she was impressed by the questions she was asked.

“The media showed a lot of knowledge of F1,” she said. “I was impressed; they’ve made F1 feel very welcome.”

However, all the colour and eccentricities of India have been lost on some F1 folk. When asked what he thought of Indian food, Kimi Raikkonen said: “It’s just like it is in Europe.” Er… right.