F1 heads to India for the first time

Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, October turn road course. Start Time: 5:30 a.m. (et). Laps: 60. Miles: 191.52. Television: Speed.

The 2011 Formula One calendar continues this weekend with the inaugural running of the Indian Grand Prix. Sunday's 60-lap race should be an entertaining one, since drivers have yet to experience the newly-built Buddh International Circuit, located roughly 25 miles away from New Delhi. The addition of a brand new circuit on the F1 schedule always presents its share of challenges for teams, as they figure out how to prepare for the unknown.

Two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has spent a lot of time sampling the 3.192-mile (5.141-kilometer), 16-turn road course on a simulator.

"By the time we race in India, I'll have done several laps of the track on the simulator," he said. "The track is a combination of slow corners and high- speed straights, which flow into each other. The altitude difference is extreme, rather like in Spa [Belgium] or Turkey, which will give the driving an additional element.

"Incidentally, we're expecting the track to have the second highest average speed of the season after Monza [Italy]. That means that we'll be completing a lap at an average speed of 235 kph, so there should be plenty of good opportunities to overtake."

While Vettel has already clinched his second straight F1 title and Red Bull has secured the constructors' championship, thanks to Vettel's win last week in South Korea, you would think the last three races of the season -- India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil -- are meaningless.

Not so.

Vettel has a couple of more F1 record-tying or record-setting opportunities left to make the remainder of the season somewhat interesting.

The young German has 10 grand prix victories so far this year. If he wins the next three races, he would match Michael Schumacher's season-record of 13, set in 2004.

Vettel is also two pole wins away from tying Nigel Mansell's record of 14 poles in a season, which Mansell accomplished in 1992.

Lewis Hamilton from McLaren won the pole for the Korean Grand Prix, ending Red Bull's season streak of 15 poles.

Last Saturday, Vettel returned to his hometown of Heppenheim, Germany to celebrate his title. An estimated 30,000 fans turned out to cheer their fellow compatriot's achievement in becoming F1's youngest-ever double world champion.

Narain Karthikeyan is the only Indian driver expected to compete in this race. Karthikeyan became India's first F1 competitor in 2005 when he made his debut with Jordan. He is replacing Vitantonio Liuzzi in this race only for HRT.

Karthikeyan, whose from Coimbatore, India, raced in the Le Mans Series and most recently in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series before returning to F1 this year. After the eighth grand prix this season, HRT replaced Karthikeyan with Daniel Ricciardo.

"Driving in front of the home crowd cheering on is going to be a surreal experience," Karthikeyan said. "It's a once in a lifetime experience, and I feel extremely fortunate. There is a huge buzz around the grand prix already, and I'm sure that it will be a resounding success that will motivate more youngsters towards the sport and give us the future F1 drivers."

Lotus test driver Karun Chandhok was hoping to race in front of his home crowd, but Lotus recently decided to retain its regular lineup with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli for the Indian GP. Chandhok will drive one of the team's T128 cars during Friday's opening practice session.

"I am very excited about driving at the new Buddh International Circuit in FP1, in front of my home crowd, and while I am obviously disappointed that I won't have the chance to race on Sunday, I accept the team's decision to opt for the experience and talent they have at their disposal with Jarno and Heikki," Chandhok said.