Questions To Be Asked In Turkey

Tuesday 25-May-2010 11:35

There's only one topic of relevance ahead of Turkey...

Just How Far Ahead Will The Red Bulls Be?
It's officially looking ominous for the rest of the field after Red Bull cruised to triumph in the slow-speed twists of Monaco after romping to victory around the high-speed sweeps of Barcelona. They've a car for all kinds of mini-seasons.

It's as much a fear now as an expectation that the Bulls will be in a race of their own in Turkey and maybe for the rest of the season (the Brawns may have been caught last season, but they didn't have a genius concept that nobody else could fathom, and they had cash restrictions rather than a billionaire benefactor). McLaren's f-duct device will be particularly valuable along Istanbul's long sweeping back straight, but it's on the high-speed corners, such as the fabulous but unimaginatively-titled Turn Eight, where the Bulls will surely drive into a league of their own. In Spain, they were almost 20kmh faster than the opposition on the high-speed bends. In F1 terms, that's a lifetime.

As the party-pooping Andrew Davies has observed, 'We've had six pole positions for Red Bull and we really should have had six 1-2 finishes for Red Bull. Only the vagaries of reliability and rainfall have got in the way.' Apologies for bursting what remains of the pre-season bubble of excitement, but the Alonso v Massa, Mercedes v McLaren, Hamilton v Button battles are in fast-approaching danger of being declared null and irrelevant. Red Bull may have let slip that they still fear Alonso and Hamilton because of their ability to transcend their machinery, but the real fear is that Webber and Vettel/Webber v Vettel will be all that matters for the final two-thirds of the campaign.

Rumour has it that, with desperate times calling for desperate measures, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren have already got together for a brain-storming session in which to collectively fathom just why the Bulls are so fast, but nobody is expecting miracles. Certainly not this weekend, anyway.

With the Bulls further ahead than the 'Boring Brawns' ever were in 2009, the morbid fascination of Turkey will be the extent of their advantage - if they show their hand, that is. "They didn't even push in Monaco. In a race you have got to be racing, but they weren't even pushing. It's not that it was scary, but it was just taking the Mickey a little bit," lamented a frustrated Hamilton. To the trained eye of Martin Brundle, Webber was indeed taking it easy in Monaco, leaving plenty of room to the barriers even as he left the rest trailing in his wake. "Every time we joined his on-board camera I sensed he was leaving a few per cent in hand, which is very significant," declared the BBC pundit before revealing that "they have more performance goodies imminently in the pipeline".

What's already ominous may be about to become depressing.

Can Vettel Stem The Webber Tide?
For Seb Vettel, it's only just beginning to look ominous. Mark Webber has a spring in his step, but he remains only level pegging at the top of the standings alongside his Bullish colleague. Fret not yet.

But great drivers are never on the back foot for long. To repeat a post-Monaco comment, it's difficult to recall either Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton enduring the sort of utterly comprehensive, entirely emphatic back-to-back trouncing that Vettel has just received from his team-mate. His reputation and standing in the sport is suddenly open to fresh interpretation. Yes, Vettel is young. Yes, Webber is currently in the form of his life. But Vettel needs a very fast response to keep Webber in check and justify his pre-season coronation as the equal of the sport's very best.

Webber's stunning form in the past two weeks also offers a different slant on Vettel's only victory of the season so far. It's easy to forget that Webber begun that race, the Malaysian GP, on pole with Vettel in third. If only he had closed the door with a push then the victory would have been his. Instead, unsighted to his team-mate's position as they headed into the first corner, Webber left the door ajar and had to trail Vettel all the way to the chequered flag.

Interestingly, the team have announced that Vettel will be armed with a different chassis in Turkey to the one he used in both Spain and Monaco after they discovered "a small defect" in Luscious Liz. The team haven't disclosed what the problem was and, as James Allen subtly notes, 'It must have been subtle damage as Vettel managed to set the fastest lap in the closing stages of the Monaco race.'

Are the team trying to convince themselves that there had to be a valid reason why Vettel was thrashed by Webber? Are they trying to bolster Vettel's own belief? Or was there indeed a small defect on his car that accounted for his defeats in Barcelona and Monte Carlo? Whatever the answer, it throws down the same gauntlet. Vettel has to respond and wrestle back the initiative from his team-mate.

Or Will Webber Finally Top Vettel?
Turkey has all the anticipation of being pivotal for the Webber v Vettel contest. Unless both crash out of the points, one of them will be leaving Istanbul on Sunday night ahead of the other in the standings. To date, Webber has only ever previously headed Vettel in the standings twice in their two years together at Red Bull - after the second grand prix of last season, when the Aussie finished sixth in Malaysia while his team-mate crashed out and then again after Webber's back-to-back podium finishes in Germany and Hungary.

It's also guaranteed that a clear leader will emerge in the their currently-deadlocked qualifying battle for this season. After six Saturday outings, their in-house duel stands as 3-3, with every one of those qualifying victories won by a pole position. Because of the advantage their car possesses, only first is now good enough for the two Red Bull drivers. It will be a seismic shock if neither Webber nor Vettel land pole on Saturday or goes clear in the World Championship with anything less than a victory on Sunday.

No Pain In The Neck For Schumi?
Talk of Michael Schumacher's neck injury has gone quiet. However, it is worth mentioning that Turkey is the first of four races this season to be run anti-clockwise. If Schumacher comes through Turkey without an ache then any lingering concern about his fitness can be permanently muted.

Will The Rumour Mill Begin To Whirl?
It's never too early to start gossiping about next year's driver line-up. Though the rumour mill will not be in full swing for at least a couple of months, it was given a couple of whirls last week by the disclosure that Felipe Massa had opened contract talks with Ferrari and Mark Webber's nudge-nudge refusal to commit to Red Bull. There's a man who is aware of how far his stock has risen in recent weeks.

Massa, on the other hand, is a man whose value is on the slide in F1's volitale Stock Exchange. Monaco was a revival of only limited sorts and the pressure remains. A three-time victor in Istanbul, defeat on a track that he likes would represent a significant blow.

At this stage of the season, the most plausible outcome to the next outbreak of musical chairs is that Massa will move to Renault with Webber remaining at Red Bull while Robert Kubica upgrades to Ferrari. One rumour whispered this week is that the Pole has an escape clause in his Renault contract that will enable him to leave if the team are not third or higher in the Constructors' Championship by the time of the British GP. They are sixth at present, with scarcely half the points of the third-placed McLaren.

Pete Gill

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