x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Fernando Alonso’s chance all down to tyre wear

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso says his hopes of challenging for victory in Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix and preventing Sebastian Vettel winning the drivers’ title depends entirely on the performance levels of the Pirelli tyres.

Fernando Alonso did not have to spend too much time thinking that if he is to extend the championship chase then Sebastian Vettel must encounter problems with the soft-compound tyre he will start the Indian Grand Prix on. Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters
Fernando Alonso did not have to spend too much time thinking that if he is to extend the championship chase then Sebastian Vettel must encounter problems with the soft-compound tyre he will start the Indian Grand Prix on. Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso says his hopes of challenging for victory in Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix and preventing Sebastian Vettel winning the drivers’ title depends entirely on the performance levels of the Pirelli tyres.

Alonso is the only man who can still derail Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel’s bid for a fourth world title.

On the surface, he has his work cut out for him with the German putting his car on pole in Saturday’s qualifying session and the Ferrari man languishing back in eighth.

The stark difference between their qualifying performances was influenced largely by tyres, however, with Vettel on the quick but fragile soft compound and Alonso electing to start the race on the slower but more hard-wearing medium. Alonso says the performance differential even between different sets of the soft tyre makes any attempt at predicting what may happen in the race almost impossible.

“The soft tyres are not good, but we need to see [Sunday] how they perform,” Alonso said.

“In Germany I remember the soft tyres were not working very well and we changed to the start on the prime [harder] tyre, and then on the Sunday the soft tyre lasted very long and we didn’t take advantage.”

Alonso was second quickest among the drivers who contested the top-10 shoot-out on the medium tyre, with Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber the quickest runner on that compound in fourth place.

Should the soft tyre’s performance tail off dramatically, then Alonso is hopeful he will be in a position to challenge for the top step.

“If the [drivers on] softs have some problems and they pit and get traffic, then maybe the race win will be between Webber and me,” he said. “If the soft tyres are lasting longer than expected and they go much longer in the first stint, it will be difficult to recover places. It’s not in our hands. It’s on a coin – because no one knows how the soft tyres will behave.

“Set to set, it’s a random tyre and you need to be lucky with the set you put on tomorrow.”

Regardless of tyre choice, the Red Bulls have been far away the class of the field at the Buddh International Circuit with Vettel topping every practice session on his way to claiming his third straight pole at the track.

Vettel, who has won the past five races, and has been victorious at both the previous races held in India, was delighted with his form as he claimed the 43rd pole of his career.

“The car felt good all weekend and it just got better as the track improved,” the German said.

“The car was amazing. It’s a great circuit, I really like the flow of it, especially around the middle sector with the high-speed corners.”

The Mercedes-GP cars of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who will also start on the soft tyres, are second and third, ahead of Webber.

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Lotus mistake costs Grosjean

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Romain Grosjean will start 17th after his Lotus team chose not to run him on the soft tyre, believing he would be fast enough to get through the first part of qualifying on the hard compound. The Frenchman said of the error: “Everyone went quicker than what we thought. It wasn’t the best thing to do [Saturday].”

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The grid

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Indian GP qualifying results

1 Vettel, Red Bull 1m24.119secs

2 Rosberg, Mercedes 1.24.871

3 Hamilton, Mercedes 1.24.941

4 Webber, Red Bull 1.25.047

5 Massa, Ferrari 1.25.201

6 Raikkonen, Lotus 1.25.248

7 Hulkenberg, Sauber 1.25.334

8 Alonso, Ferrari 1.25.826

9 Perez, McLaren 1.26.153

10 Button, McLaren 1.26.487

Top 10 must start the race on the tyres with which they finished qualifying

11 Ricciardo, Toro Rosso 1.25.519

12 Di Resta, Force India 1.25.711

13 Sutil, Force India 1.25.740

14 Vergne, Toro Rosso 1.25.798

15 Bottas, Williams 1.26.134

16 Gutierrez, Sauber 1.26.336

17 Grosjean, Lotus 1.26.577

18 Maldonado, Williams 1.26.842

19 Bianchi, Marussia 1.26.970

20 V der Garde, Caterham 1.27.105

21 Pic, Caterham 1.27.487

22 Chilton, Marussia 1.28.138

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