2010 Turkish Grand Prix (Istanbul, Round 7, May 28th-30th)

Istanbul track map. © FIA

When the gates open at Istanbul Park circuit on Friday morning for first practice, a few anticipated that the attendance would be fairly low, but I wonder how many would have guessed so few would be in the grandstands during the day. So bare were the viewing areas, it would be impossible to ignore the vast amounts of blue, yellow and red seats – in fact on long television shots, the emptiness behind the Formula 1 technological masterpieces dominates. In fact the Turkish Grand Prix is losing huge numbers every year, with approximately 40,000 people at the raceday in 2008 and 36,000 visiting the track on Sunday last year – as it stands, Bahrain is the only Grand Prix that attracts less attendees; a worrying statistic for both events. It is something that does not bode well for Ferrari as the team celebrate their 800th Formula 1 World Championship race over the weekend; like celebrating a birthday alone, this landmark feels rather deflated and empty.

The few that were there on Friday basked in bright and warm sunshine, while the drivers were met by an incredibly “green” circuit – the track at Istanbul is used so little over the course of the entire year, that it shrouded in a blanket of dust when the Formula 1 circus arrives. Apprehension at the state of the circuit is made quite apparent by the lack of on-track action during the first session – indeed, it is a full 25 minutes before Sakon Yamamoto set a time for Hispania Racing as the Japanese reserve driver sits in for Bruno Senna during the opening 90 minute session. Unfortunately it is a short run for the former-Super Aguri and Spyker driver as a loose gurney-flap on his rear wing – Yamamoto pits the next lap. It is an incident that has typified HRT’s season; however the Spanish squad announced during the week that their working relationship with chassis builder, Dallara had come to an early end. Things get worse rather than better though for HRT – not long after Yamamoto pits, his team mate Karun Chandhok suffers a throttle failure and crawls back to the garage to park his car.
A number of drivers have slight offs during the session; however Adrian Sutil ended first practice with a rather heavy smash through the fast turn 8 corner when his Force India went wide and spun sideways into the welcoming barriers, wiping the nose section and right front wheel off of his car. It’s an unnecessary stoppage for the team who are trying out their version of the F-duct for the first time this year, although with 10th and 12th place finishes, it is questionable if Force India has made any real benefit from the device. Red Bull also installed the device into the RB06, but only into the car of Sebastian Vettel; however the German, using his new chassis for the first time this year, completed the session in only 5th place and 1.2 seconds behind the fastest driver. On this occasion, the top man was Lewis Hamilton with team mate Jenson Button 0.9 seconds off the quickest pace, but still in second position. The two McLaren’s were ahead of the Mercedes duo led by Michael Schumacher, as the all-German squad moved back to their long-wheelbase machine in an attempt to better tackle to more open and sweeping Istanbul roads.

As the hot morning drifts into a baking afternoon, the circuit heats up considerably as the teams ponder upon inevitable tyre problems.  With its lack of usage, increased temperature and long, hard corners, tyre wear on race day has the potential to be higher that most Grand Prix with the possible exception of Bahrain and Malaysia.  After missing out on the opening 90 minute session, Bruno Senna finds himself back in his HRT machine and promptly filled out the slowest spots with his teammate, Chandhok; however it has become apparent that the Virgin’s are also struggling at the Istanbul circuit.  The excursions and wobbles continue throughout the afternoon as both HRT’s, Schumacher, Kamui Kobayashi wander off the road at various points, with Vitaly Petrov, Felipe Massa and Vitantonio Liuzzi having multiple offs during the session.  No such issues hindered McLaren’s weekend progress, although this time it was Button that held the fastest lap; however Hamilton was fourth fastest sandwiching both Red Bull’s.  A good result for the Austrian squad as they run very quickly despite being down on power on the dusty and dirty circuit, but a water cooling issue sidelined Vettel for a period early on, while Webber blew an ageing engine as practice drew to a close.

Saturday morning brought the third practice session, cooler and overcast conditions and more empty grandstands.  It was a session that was plagued by plenty of spins and mechanical problems for various drivers, which saw many of them crawl slowly back to their respective garages.  The Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen suffered gearbox sensor problems, which locked him in third gear; Sutil had hydraulic issues and Webber lost his throttle – off the three, Sutil was unable to register a time during the 60 minute session.  Off track excursions dented sessions for Sebastien Buemi, Chandhok, Petrov, Hamilton and both Red Bull’s – all of whom took a longer journey through the turn 8 complex.  If Webber was having a difficult time, his team mate enjoying a good session.  Vettel’s car had the F-duct removed and topped the session with a series fastest laps and came ahead of Rosberg and Hamilton.

After a series of events, some things become expected in qualifying so it was no surprise that the three new teams did not make it past the initial 20 minute run; however they were joined by the struggling Liuzzi who was not helped by car eager to step out at the rear end.  The Italian was beaten once again by his younger teammate and is under pressure to keep his seat for the whole season.  Sutil, himself, only made it as far as the end of the second qualifying period and placed his Force India in 11th place; however the real surprise of the session was the exit of Fernando Alonso – the Ferrari driver struggled in the Turkish heat and was only able to place his car on 12th.  They are joined by both Toro Rosso’s, both Williams’ and de la Rosa.  It is a difficult result too for de la Rosa as his younger teammate, Kobayashi makes it through to the final session, but settles for 10th position.
Red Bull had scored six straight poles after Monaco and at Istanbul, they made it seven – not only that, Webber achieved his third pole in a row as he put in a time 0.2 of a second ahead of 2nd place Hamilton.  Vettel picked 3rd with Button alongside; however the young German was suffering from a roll bar linkage failure, thereby making the second row his best possible result.  Schumacher qualified in fifth ahead of his teammate, but the seven-time champion ran way off circuit at turn 8 on his final session, burying his Mercedes into the gravel.  Behind them Robert Kubica, Massa and Petrov fill out the grid.  For Ferrari’s 800th Formula 1 race, it’s been a difficult weekend so far; Massa has dominated here in the past, but an 8th place start is hardly ideal – right now the red and blue cars lead the Turkish march.

Despite the sparse groups of attendees over the previous two days, a reasonable crowd descended upon Istanbul Park for the Grand Prix, although many were content to sit cosily in the general admission hills rather than bake in a smouldering grandstand seat.  It is therefore fitting that Istanbul chose this year to provide us with one of the most stunning races of the last few years.
Just when the Red Bull’s looked like they had wrapped up the race, they threw it away… again.  For all 58 laps, the Turkish Grand Prix was one of the most tense in recent memory with rarely more than a few seconds between the top four, led off the line by Webber.  Hamilton started on the dirty side of the track in 2nd place and a lack of grip off of the line saw Vettel shoot by McLaren driver into the first bend, before Hamilton returned the favour and retook second position later in the lap.  Button – also on the dirty side – also found himself passed by the man behind – a certain M Schumacher; however the reigning Champion, unwilling to spend another race behind the German (as he did in Spain), drafted skilfully by the Mercedes veteran on the approach into turn 12, reclaiming fourth position in the process.  For lap after lap, Hamilton darted down the inside of turns 1 and 12, but never quite had enough as each time through turn 8, Webber had just the right amount of grip to pull away from the McLaren.
It stayed like this until the 16th lap, when the front pair pitted and a momentary delay held Hamilton in the pits for an extra second; the damage was small, but it was done nonetheless – Vettel, who had changed tyres on the previous lap, made the most of his fresh rubber had just enough over the Englishman to move into second.  Webber still led, still had control, but his stalker had changed.  Rather than a drab procession that this could have been, it was a quite fascinating battle as driver chased driver every lap, never more than seconds apart – all four on top of their game, watching, waiting, ready to pounce if need be…

As Button watched, a gap had formed behind him and every lap the space to 5th place Schumacher grew larger and with it, a train of cars sat on the tail of the great German – just as tense as the battle up front.  As the Mercedes driver led the pack, his teammate Rosberg stalked, while Kubica and Massa followed the German duo.  It had been a quiet weekend for both Renault and Ferrari – despite the Italian marquee’s anniversary celebrations – as Kubica and Massa clocked up miles in the Schumacher train, while Petrov and Alonso fought diligently for positions even further down the field.  They were temporarily joined in the mix by the Sauber of Kobayashi and Adrian Sutil in his Force India, before even they were left behind.  Nearer the back of the pack, the battles were just as intense as Buemi in his Toro Rosso connected with Hulkenberg’s Williams off the start line, sending both drivers into the pits for repairs; however even their respective teammates did not fair much better as a slow-starting Barrichello struggled for most of the race with an intermittent throttle, while a two-stop strategy for Alguersuari left him fighting for lower positions.
For a while, the veteran Williams driver even had a tight battle with Heikki Kovalainen in his Lotus Cosworth and for a short time, the backmarker was strong enough to give Barrichello a run for his money around much of the Istanbul course.  Sadly for the Lotus team, the run was not to last as both of their drivers retired at virtually the same time with the same malaise with hydraulic failure once again punishing the partly British/partly Malaysian squad.  As Jarno Trulli rolled his car slowly to the side of the track and Kovalainen ground to a halt in the pits, an atmosphere of gloom and disappointment descended upon the small group.  It was a feeling of disappointment that was exasperated by their chief rivals at the rear of the field continuing on – albeit slowly, although Virgin Racing had a worrying early run.  An oil leak hampered Lucas di Grassi’s pre-race build-up; however the Brazilian made the race with a start in the pitlane, while his teammate Timo Glock circled the Istanbul silently for much of the race; not helped a stall on on the grid and a power steering failure as the race drew to a close.  Another worry for the Virgin Racing team was the realisation that the Hispania Racing squad appeared to have gained ground on them; it mattered little in the end as the Spanish team lost both cars before the end of the race, yet it was clear that for the first time this year, Hispania were racing Virgin for real.

This isn’t to say that the action was confined to the rear and mid pack groups – with each lap, the frontrunners looked more and more tasty, knowing that each lap brought them closer to race finish and that stops would not decide this Grand Prix; if any moves were to be made, they would have to be on track.  While Webber leads, Hamilton picks up a draft on Vettel and attempts a go around the outside through turn 12 and is by – but only for a moment – and by the exit of the next turn, the young German retakes 2nd place; the Red Bull team breath easy once again, but Hamilton is making sure that this is not an easy run for the Austrian squad.  Soon, backmarkers fall into the path of Webber and his entourage, and the leading pack close together again – still watching, still waiting, but with Webber’s teammate behind him, the Australian should be safe… right??
More tours of the course pass and soon Vettel ups his pace and lays pressure on the race leader – chasing Webber in the opening few bends, through the fast turn 8, down the long back straight and into the tight turn 12; both Red Bulls to’ and fro’ with eachother, while the McLaren’s sit in station behind them.  Lap 40 and still Vettel chases hard, and for the first time has a solid run on the race leader on the run down the straight and with a good draft, Vettel pulls alongside and… bang!! The eye blinks, the moment flashes an in an instant, Vettel spins into the run off area – his right rear tyre and suspension destroyed beyond repair – and a damaged Webber runs off the road in sympathy; his front wing merely damaged, but at least he can carry on.  In a move of sheer stupidity, Vettel – only just ahead down the inside of the backstraight, turns across the track while Webber held his line and clumsily crashed into his fellow Red Bull pilot.  For the second consecutive year, a mistake cost the German driver in Istanbul and in an instant, the race is handed to the McLaren’s.  They say rule number one in motor racing is “don’t crash into your teammate” – Vettel may need to be reminded of that.

With 16 laps remaining Hamilton led as Button trailed close behind, with Webber now a distant third and having to pit once again – luckily for the Australian, his lead over the chasing pack was so great, he still managed to get out ahead of the now 4th place Schumacher; however he was now 30 seconds behind the McLaren’s.  Yet even now, the race was by no means over – receiving a message over the radio to save fuel, Hamilton drops slightly off the pace and Button uses this time push his team mate hard and on the 48th lap forces passed 2008 Champion on the outside into turn 12.  It’s a ballsy move by Button, but Hamilton refused steadfastly to give way and the two McLaren drivers go side-by-side through the following corners with the reigning World Champion coming out ahead.  Not to be outdone, Hamilton falls behind Button’s rear wing and gets a hefty pull in the slipstream and drafts alongside the inside on the entry into the first corner – Hamilton emerges just ahead and as the British duo run alongside eachother up turn 2 and into turn 3, Hamilton secures his lead and with that the race.  Not willing to give up, Button continued to push Hamilton; however warnings from his crew about a possible lack of fuel mean he must lean off too – the McLaren team breathe a sigh of relief on the pit wall, knowing full well their message guaranteed their driver pair a win and a second place.
Only moments later, the Istanbul crowd are gifted another on track battle as the Petrov and Alonso still battle it out for 8th place and four points.  In a repeat of the Hamilton-Button battle, Petrov leads Alonso around, yet the Spaniard darts around the track searching for gaps and openings everywhere.  Eventually, Alonso tries around the outside of the first corner and can’t make it and throughout the 54th tour around, Alonso continued to look menacing – slotting in and out of Petrov’s line of rearward vision, the Spaniard maintained an aggressive posture and tries again around the outside of turn 1, but it’s not quite enough – a quick switch to the inside of Petrov and then back to the outside through the turn 2 kink and this time he has it; with a better exit speed from the kink, Alonso moves around Russian driver through turn 3, but Petrov – refusing to let go, bangs wheels with the Spaniard, wounding his Renault in the process.  With a punctured right front tyre, another points paying day evaporates as the rookie descends on the pits for new tyres.

No such problems though for McLaren, as Hamilton eases himself across the finish line to record a fabulous victory – his first since Singapore last year, but it was by no means was it an easy win.  As the race faded in a haze, a feeling permeated through the air that Vettel had made a catastrophic error, yet oddly the team seemed overly supportive of the German – falling just shy of publicly blaming Webber.  Realistically much of the race was a tense, exciting battle between the Red Bull’s and the McLaren’s, but it was a battle fractured by a moment of immaturity from Sebastian Vettel – and one wonders if Red Bull may themselves be fractured internally as they leave Istanbul.

Webber will be disappointed about dropping ten points, but he still leads the title race; however Button moves to second place and is closely followed by Hamilton.  In two weeks, the Formula 1 circus moves back to the wonderful Montreal circuit in Canada for the first North American race in two years – it will be hard pushed to top this, but thankfully Canada always tries.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Istanbul, Turkish Grand Prix (Round 6, May 30th)
1  HAMILTON     McLaren      58 laps
2  BUTTON       McLaren      +2.6s
3  WEBBER       Red Bull     +24.2s
4  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     +31.1s
5  ROSBERG      Mercedes     +32.2s
6  KUBICA       Renault      +32.8s
7  MASSA        Ferrari      +36.6s
8  ALONSO       Ferrari      +46.5s
9  SUTIL        Force India  +49.0s
10 KOBAYASHI    Sauber       +65.6s
11 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       +65.9s
12 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   +67.8s
13 LIUZZI       Force India  +1 lap
14 BARRICHELLO  Williams     +1 lap
15 PETROV       Renault      +1 lap
16 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   +1 lap
17 HULKENBERG   Williams     +1 lap
18 GLOCK        Virgin       +3 laps
19 DI GRASSI    Virgin       +3 laps
20 CHANDHOK     HRT          +6 laps
R  SENNA        HRT          +12 laps
R  VETTEL       Red Bull     +19 laps
R  KOVALAINEN   Lotus        +25 laps
R  TRULLI       Lotus        +26 laps

Turkey, Qualifying (May 29th)
3rd Session
1  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m26.295s
2  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m26.433s
3  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m26.760s
4  BUTTON        McLaren       1m26.781s
5  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m26.857s
6  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m26.952s
7  KUBICA        Renault       1m27.039s
8  MASSA         Ferrari       1m27.082s
9  PETROV        Renault       1m27.430s
10 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m28.122s
2nd Session
11 SUTIL         Force India   1m27.525s
12 ALONSO        Ferrari       1m27.612s
13 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m27.879s
14 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m28.273s
15 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m28.392s
16 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m28.540s
17 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m28.841s
1st Session
18 LIUZZI        Force India   1m28.958s
19 TRULLI        Lotus         1m30.237s
20 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m30.519s
21 GLOCK         Virgin        1m30.744s
22 SENNA         HRT           1m31.266s
23 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m31.989s
24 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m32.060s

Turkey, 3rd Free Practice (May 29th)
1  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m27.086s
2  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m27.359s
3  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m27.396s
4  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m27.553s
5  KUBICA        Renault       1m27.784s
6  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m27.861s
7  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m27.879s
8  BUTTON        Mercedes      1m27.963s
9  MASSA         Ferrari       1m27.969s
10 PETROV        Renault       1m28.344s
11 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m28.610s
12 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m28.652s
13 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m28.734s
14 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m29.036s
15 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m29.044s
16 LIUZZI        Force India   1m29.211s
17 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m29.305s
18 TRULLI        Lotus         1m30.618s
19 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m30.884s
20 GLOCK         Virgin        1m31.341s
21 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m32.180s
22 SENNA         HRT           1m32.230s
23 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m32.762s
24 SUTIL         Force India   no time

Turkey, 2nd Free Practice (May 28th)
1  BUTTON        McLaren       1m28.280s
2  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m28.378s
3  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m28.590s
4  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m28.672s
5  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m28.725s
6  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m28.914s
7  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m28.974s
8  KUBICA        Renault       1m29.225s
9  PETROV        Renault       1m29.501s
10 MASSA         Ferrari       1m29.620s
11 SUTIL         Force India   1m29.629s
12 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m29.987s
13 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m30.053s
14 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m30.176s
15 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m30.386s
16 LIUZZI        Force India   1m30.627s
17 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m30.766s
18 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m30.933s
19 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m31.610s
20 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m33.013s
21 TRULLI        Lotus         1m33.081s
22 GLOCK         Virgin        1m33.312s
23 SENNA         HRT           1m33.420s
24 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m33.740s

Turkey, 1st Free Practice (May 28th)
1  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m28.653s
2  BUTTON        McLaren       1m29.615s
3  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m29.750s
4  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m29.855s
5  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m29.867s
6  KUBICA        Renault       1m30.061s
7  PETROV        Renault       1m30.065s
8  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m30.097s
9  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m30.294s
10 SUTIL         Force India   1m30.501s
11 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m30.615s
12 LIUZZI        Force India   1m30.853s
13 MASSA         Ferrari       1m30.867s
14 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m31.011s
15 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m31.238s
16 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m31.355s
17 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m31.464s
18 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m31.735s
19 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m32.161s
20 TRULLI        Lotus         1m32.990s
21 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m34.876s
22 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m35.137s
23 GLOCK         Virgin        1m35.583s
24 YAMAMOTO      HRT           1m36.137s

Driver Team Points
1. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 93
2. Jenson Button McLaren 88
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 84
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 79
5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 78
6. Robert Kubica Renault 67
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 67
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 66
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 34
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 22
11. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India 10
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams 7
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 6
14. Jaime Alguersuari Scuderia Toro Rosso 3
15. Sebastien Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso 1
16. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1
Constructor Team Points
1. McLaren 172
2. Red Bull Racing 171
3. Ferrari 146
4. Mercedes GP 100
5. Renault 73
6. Force India 32
7. Williams 8
8. Scuderia Toro Rosso 4
9. Sauber 1

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