Turkish Grand Prix Preview

Date published: May 5 2011

Things can only get better for Red Bull one year after the accident that almost caused civil war in the team.

Make the most of it while it’s still on the calendar, F1 fans, the future of the Turkish GP is in the balance.

The irony is that Hermann Tilke’s best track, which has produced consistently exciting races without the need of plasticene tyres or cat flaps on the rear wing, is one of the ones most likely to disappear. The reason is clear. It’s the deafening silence from the grandstands during the race weekend. The Turkish government are pretty fed up of paying $13m for no-one to show up and see it and they certainly don’t like the idea of paying $26m for the same result.

Apart from a considerable rise and fall in gradient over the course of the lap, the maginficent Otodrome has a final set of corners that switches back the advantage to the outside and inside, allowing drivers to go through it side by side (that’s if they can keep apart in the braking zone). It also has the stirring, triple apex left-hander, Turn 8, which accounts for 8.5 seconds of the drivers’ attention over the course of a lap.

Last year in Istanbul we had the epic intra-team battle of Webber versus Vettel, plus the equally gripping Button versus Hamilton. Whereas Jenson and Lewis bounced into each others’ tyres, the Red Bulls had the accident which will be played back to them for the rest of their careers, colliding at the end of the long back straight. Vettel looked more at fault than Webber, and as if to prove it, did the same kind of thing to Jenson Button at Spa. This year he will be older and wiser.

McLaren come into the race buoyed by Lewis Hamilton’s remarkable strategy victory in China. He, Jenson Button and Mark Webber (with a little help from Pirelli tyres) breathed new life into F1 by showing that he who dares to take an extra set of tyres can win. So many races in the past have been won by drivers grimly hanging on at the front with a minimum of stops while the faster extra-stoppers have failed to find a way through the pack. Not any more – though Monaco might still prove a little troublesome.

The Woking team have been looking at the engine mapping on their car for the qualifying session. McLaren Engineering director Paddy Lowe thinks that Red Bull have developed a cunning engine map to give them that one-lap pace which immediately deserts them when they get into the race. That’s the theory they’ve come up with to explain the disparity between Vettel putting his car on pole by half a second on Saturday and not disappearing down the road on the Sunday.
It goes without saying that all the teams will have upgrades for Istanbul. It’s the first European race of the season and there’s been three weeks since a wheel was turned, so everyone and his wife is going to be bringing shiny new bits and pieces. The most important of those are the ones being fitted to the Virgin and Williams’ cars. Williams are slowly imploding having announced that their technical director and aerodynamicist are leaving, and that Patrick Head is retiring, even though Patrick hasn’t announced it and CEO Adam Parr has. Patrick didn’t sound best pleased when he found out. But he would gladly trade that information for a place higher up the grid. Williams are now under threat from resolute outfits like Lotus who have established a lot of daylight between themselves and fellow 2010 debutant Virgin. Virgin don’t seem to have moved forward very much this season and Timo Glock is not best pleased.

Ferrari are another team who need to get a good result, though for them no less than a podium places is required. Felipe Massa has got the better of Fernando Alonso for the last two races thanks to some immaculate starts, but in Turkey it’s such a short run to the first corner that he’ll need to try and outqualify him this time round. After what was viewed as another strategy failure in China, Stefano Domenicali will be anxious to read the tyres correctly.

In China it was an unusual situation because the soft tyre was a much better choice than the harder prime tyre, so those who could get rid of their harder tyre by running it for shorter distances were the ones who prospered. Pirelli chief Paul Hembery is resolved to making sure there is a much bigger difference between the two tyres from now on. So the teams are going to have to keep guessing as to the race durability of each. Will it be two, three or four stops? With a shorter than average pitlane, hot conditions and the punishing Turn 8, the chances are it’ll be more than less. The race in Shanghai has set our expectations very high.

FH