Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel dominated today’s Turkish Grand Prix, winning in emphatic style ahead of teammate Mark Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
On paper, Vettel’s gap back to the following pair was just over eight seconds, yet there never seemed to be any danger of the reigning Champion being troubled by those behind.
An Early Advantage
Even getting off the grid was trouble free for poleman Vettel, although Webber – beside him on the front row – instantly rued his start, as Nico Rosberg fired his silver and turquoise Mercedes between the Red Bull’s off the line.
Behind them, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton also fancied a go at Webber, but it would prove costly – a failed attempt around the outside of the fourth turn saw Hamilton drift wide, letting Alonso and Jenson Button (McLaren) through.
Rosberg could not keep to the tail of Vettel – the Red Bull eking out a four second advantage in the opening laps. By the time Webber retook Rosberg on the 5th tour, Vettel was already well clear.
A brief inter-team battle between the McLaren’s was shaping up for 5th and 6th – it would see Hamilton and Button swap places numerous times.
By the end of lap six, Hamilton was through – aided by the DRS, only for Button to retake 5th a few corners later. This action was repeated two laps later, with Button again emerging on top, but with Hamilton’s tyres burning out, the Englishman opted for an early change.
Felipe Massa also dipped by the McLaren driver, but Massa’s gain would be shortlived thanks to a lengthy tyre change – upon exit, the Ferrari driver came close to hitting the Briton as they trundled down the narrow lane.
At least those ahead could take the start. Virgin’s Timo Glock did not even get to see the lights, as his Cosworth-powered machine suffered a gearbox failure on the warm-up lap.
“A very short race for me. It was very frustrating to experience a problem with fifth gear just as I was making my way to the grid. I have to say the team did an amazing job to try to get me back on track but in the end it just wasn’t possible.”
Another driver on the road to a tough day was Michael Schumacher. The Mercedes pilot swapped 8th for 7th with Renault’s Vitaly Petrov off the line, only for the Russian to fight back on the next lap. As Petrov dived down the inside of Schumacher at turn 12, the German turned in – too late – clattering the Renault and damaging his front wing, earning the Mercedes man a pitstop.
It was a moment that defined Schumacher’s race and left him struggling in the pack for much of the day.
Rosberg too was also beginning to feel the heat. Feeling some instability under heavy fuel loads, Rosberg’s pace deteriorated, with Alonso taking 3rd on the seventh lap. The pair would pit together (with Webber) on lap 11. It was a close call for Rosberg, who just pipped the Hamilton / Massa battle into turn one.
Still feeling the weight of fuel, Hamilton made speedy work of Rosberg three laps later.
Canny Strategies and Bold Moves
Vettel helped himself to a set of used softs on lap 12, but his assured pace made certain that he returned to the track ahead of all, bar Button.
Button played a canny tyre strategy, staying out the longest of all. Through the first stint, he gained two-three laps on his rivals, but Istanbul’s abrasive surface was peeling his grip away.
Such was his early speed, Vettel emerged three seconds behind Button, but that was down to less than a second before the end of a single tour. Not willing to hang around, Vettel retook the lead from Button on lap 13 – his DRS proving more than sufficient exiting turn 11.
Within three corners, Button was in the pitlane, as was Sauber star Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver had started from 23rd position due to a mechanical problem in qualifying, yet through a series of overtakes and competitor’s strategy, Kobayashi had moved to 5th by the lap 14, before his stop dropped his to 11th.
A stellar effort.
Button emerged behind Rosberg and Massa, leaving his strategy in the balance. Whereas most others were going for a four-stop race, Button had committed to a three-stopper and the last thing he needed was to stuck under the wing of two similarly-paced machines.
The McLaren ace did not spend long reeling in Rosberg and Massa and by the 20th lap, they were in his sights. The pair had been battling hard amongst themselves for a few laps, with Massa passing Rosberg in turn nine and the German retaking the Brazilian three turns later.
It was a matter of time. Massa simply waited an extra lap and lined Rosberg for a move into turn 12 – this time, not only would it stick, the door also stayed wide enough for Button to climb through. In two corners, the Mercedes pilot fell from 5th to 7th.
Button would complete the cycle come lap 23, as he relegated Massa down to 6th. Both Rosberg and Massa took their second stops shortly afterward, with Button also pitting on lap 27. His previous work came to naught – a sluggish stop left him back behind Massa (but ahead of Rosberg).
Others took the time to fit new Pirelli’s as well. Amongst those were Hamilton (lap 21), Webber (lap 22), Alonso (lap 23) and Vettel (lap 26) – as the foursome filtered out into their respective stints, it was becoming clear how unstoppable Vettel would be today.
With ease, the reigning Champion had carve an eight second lead, made more comfortable by the continuing Webber / Alonso fight. Despite nearly hitting the half-distance mark, the duo were separated by only one second – and neither were ready to give up.
Webber – perhaps feeling the pain of his third set of tyres – fell swiftly towards Alonso’s clutches; by lap 29, Alonso had both the momentum and 2nd position. Vettel, though, was still nine seconds down the road and seemingly unassailable.
Hamilton, meanwhile guarded a comfortable 4th ahead of the long running three stopping Rubens Barrichello (Williams) and Adrian Sutil (Force India).
Barrichello and Sutil would make their second stops on lap 24 and 25 respectively, promoting Petrov up to 5th; the Russian had also stopped twice (laps 9 and 21) and was once again showing improved 2011 pace.
Pressure Under Fire
Petrov was not alone. Unwilling to let precious points flirt away, Button dragged himself up to the rear Massa by the 30th lap; while the Brazilian glared at Petrov’s rear wing.
As good as the Renault pace was, he could not compete with the Ferrari / McLaren pair, causing both Massa and Button to lose nearly ten seconds to the leaders in only four laps. Taking matters into his own hands, Button grabbed 6th off of Massa on lap 35 – just as Massa was about to pit again…
Both Hamilton and Petrov had also made the trip. Whereas, both Petrov and Massa had spent much of the race together in each other’s company, Hamilton was mostly running alone with a gap of 16 seconds either side of him.
A stuck right front wheel nut cost the McLaren driver nearly seven seconds, only to be delayed further as Massa entered his box ahead of Hamilton’s nose. Despite the delay, Hamilton held his advantage over those behind him.
Which is something Massa did not do. As the Brazilian rejoined on lap 36, he threw his Ferrari wide at the ferocious turn eight, losing several positions in the process – now mired in 14th, Massa’s day was in real trouble.
An almost immediate repass on Kobayashi brought the Ferrari up to 13th; however the hill for good points had now become a mountain.
Playing the Long Game
One driver making a good ascent through the order was Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi. ; He had remained quiet for much of the race after starting 16th, yet his three-stop strategy left him 11th with seventeen laps remaining. With a few ahead still needing an extra stop, the 21-year-old had placed himself very well for some points.
Also making their third stops were the leading pack. While Vettel had little to worry about when he made for the pits on the 41st lap, it was different story for Webber and Alonso. As they switched to new hard Pirelli’s on laps 36 and 37, it quickly became clear that the Red Bull was the more comfortable.
Both would make their final stops ten laps later and while the Spaniard held a solid gap over the Red Bull pilot for a time, the Australian was clearly reeling himself in; his RB7 enjoying the conditions.
From three seconds (lap 48), the gap closed significantly – and quickly. Within one tour, it was 1.7 seconds and by the 50th circulation, Webber had Alonso’s rear wing in sight.
Never to give in without a fight, the Ferrari pilot held Webber at bay, until the Red Bull man activated his DRS into turn twelve on the 51st lap. What should have been an easy move thereafter was made much harder by Alonso’s insistence on 2nd place.
As Webber slid passed the red machine, Alonso held a tight line through the final corners, getting alongside the Australian on the start / finish straight, but as turn one approached, Webber edged ahead, guaranteeing both 2nd place and the extra three points.
There were no points for Force India’s Paul di Resta though – the young Scot was mired at the tail of the midfield for much of the day, but on lap 45, di Resta’s crew ordered the 24-year-old to pull off track due to a mechanical issue.
“I managed to hold my position on the first lap. However, as the race unfolded the pace didn’t seem quite there and that’s why we decided to change our strategy. When I was leaving the pits after my final stop, the team came on the radio and instructed me to stop.”
Sebastian Makes his Mark…
Realistically though, this race was all about Sebastian Vettel. Rarely did the camera’s trouble him with their glare, but they simply didn’t have to for Vettel himself was rarely troubled – a final stop on the 48th lap left him with an 8 second advantage; a gap that remained as he took the flag at the end of 58 tours.
It gives Vettel a 34 point lead in the title hunt ahead of Hamilton, leaving the field a huge mountain to climb as the series heads to Spain. Should the Red Bull man keep this pace up, the 2011 season may become a story about the runner-up spot.
“It was a great result today – especially after I gave the team so much work on Friday. I hope giving a victory back goes some way to help them forget it. In the race we had a very good first stint and got a gap and you can always benefit from that cushion. At the end I did two short stints, which was the right thing to do – it was seamless today.”
The young German may have led home a Red Bull 1-2, but once again, Mark Webber had no answer. At a race where Webber needed to beat his Vettel, the Australian was left to battle for podium scraps with Fernando Alonso.
“It was a good fight with Fernando, you lose a bit of time when you’re into each other like that, but it turned out okay and I got him back in the end. For the first stop, the team pitted me earlier than expected as they were worried about the undercuts coming into play. Ferrari saw the same thing and it was really a race between us two from then onwards. I will leave Istanbul happy – it was my best result of the year so far.”
For Alonso, 3rd will be welcome considering Ferrari’s rough start to 2011, although with Felipe Massa trapped in 11th, the Scuderia will realise there is still some distance to travel.
“I am pleased with this result, which is down to three weeks of hard work from the entire team at Maranello and at the track this weekend. The next three or four races will be crucial. At 99% I could not have fought with Vettel, but the remaining 1% went when I was stuck behind Rosberg for too long. In the end, Webber passed me because he had the benefit of a new set of tyres, while I had none left. It’s true that the gap in the classification is very wide, but there are still so many points up for grabs: there is certainly no need to give up.”
With the chequered flag drawing in, Button’s tyre gamble was also coming into play. Having made his last stop on the 40th tour, the Briton emerged 7th, becoming 4th as strategies around him unfolded, but Button would soon be at the mercy of those on fresher Pirelli’s.
Hamilton and Rosberg were immediate challengers to Button – stops on laps 45 (Rosberg) and 47 (Hamilton) saw the pair chasing the 2009 World Champion, as he began to struggle. Neither would waste too much time, with Hamilton assuming 4th place from Button on lap 49 and Rosberg taking 5th six laps later.
What was less certain was the placing of the final points positions. Considering his lowly starting position, Buemi would have been delighted with 7th position – alas, it was not to be.
Late moves by Heidfeld (lap 55) and Petrov (lap 58) dropped the Swiss driver to 9th – there was little that Buemi could do about the overtakes; his Pirelli’s had been destroyed long before the final tour, but he had need not worry about losing 9th:
“In general I am very happy with my race and I don’t think I could have done better. However, it’s true that in the final two laps I lost two places and if not for this we could have brought home a seventh place finish. But I could not even hold the steering wheel anymore because there was so much vibration coming through from the tyres: it was not due to tyre wear, so we will have to analyse carefully what happened. We are continuing to develop the car and have more parts coming which I hope can keep us fighting for points in the next few races.”
Outside the Points
At the flag, Massa had no answer for Kobayashi. The Japanese driver’s solid pace had rewarded him with 10th and the final points place, although Massa came very close to denying the Sauber. It was a completely deserved reward for Kobayashi, who is shaping up to be a special talent.
“It was a lot of fun today, I really enjoyed this race. It is just one point now because we lost so much time due to a puncture, which was the result of touching Sébastien Buemi when I overtook him. Otherwise I think I could have finished seventh and score more points. The last stint was quite long with 20 laps, but it worked out well.”
As for Massa, his earlier drama’s had left his race rather crippled. Another slow pitstop on lap 47 left the Brazilian back in 13th place, yet Massa was still able to deal with Schumacher (lap 52) with ease. More difficult was Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari.
The Spaniard sat just ahead of the Massa / Schumacher battle, with Massa attempting a move on lap 54 – sensing a gap, Schumacher also dived in making a three-wide pack into the final corner, with Massa and Schumacher finally converging in turn 1.
The Brazilian – playing hard – shoved the Mercedes aside, assuming 11th place with only three laps to go. Alguersuari continued to lose pace and a final stop on lap 55 left the Spaniard trapped in 16th spot.
Behind Schumacher in 13th was the sole finishing Force India of Adrian Sutil, followed by Sauber’s Sergio Perez. Sadly, neither looked like a threat over the weekend, as both started the season in rather neutered manner.
Rubens Barrichello was also not having much success holding his competitors off. The Brazilian – 9th by the 39th lap – was spending the final section of the hard Pirelli’s having completed his first three stints of the softer rubber.
However the Williams driver – suffering somewhat in a car strangled by a difficult aerodynamic concept – could not hold the flow of quicker machines just behind. First Renault’s Nick Heidfeld surged passed the FW33 (lap 39), before Massa (lap 40), Schumacher (lap 40) also gained places on Barrichello.
The Brazilian’s pace would continue to fall off badly, with the veteran eventually crossing the line a lowly 15th.
It was turning to a bad weekend in general for Williams. Barrichello’s rookie teammate, Pastor Maldonado, had spent the weekend well off the pace and was lingering in a poor 17th place, when he was caught speeding in the pitlane on lap 41. The resultant drive through penalty left him not too far ahead of Jarno Trulli’s Lotus (18th) – not a result the Venezuelan would have desired.
Lotus were unable to continue the gains they had made in China. Beyond Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen took 19th, albeit two laps down. The Finn beat Virgin’s Jerome d’Ambrosio across the line; however d’Ambrosio must be credited for pulling off a brave two-stop strategy.
Both Hispania’s finished with Narain Karthikeyan taking 21st (three laps down) and Vitantonio Liuzzi 22nd (five laps adrift).
Next up is Barcelona. The tradition pre-season testing ground and a circuit where overtaking has proved to be virtually impossible over the years – a real test for the DRS, KERS units and most importantly, the Pirelli tyres.
Will Sebastian Vettel continue this streak of success? It is getting hard to look passed him at this stage.
Race Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Turkey; 58 laps Pos Driver Team Time 1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h30:17.558 2. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 8.807 3. Alonso Ferrari + 10.075 4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 40.232 5. Rosberg Mercedes + 47.539 6. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 59.431 7. Heidfeld Renault + 1:00.857 8. Petrov Renault + 1:08.168 9. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:09.300 10. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:18.000 11. Massa Ferrari + 1:19.800 12. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:25.400 13. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap 14. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap 15. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap 16. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap 17. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap 18. Trulli Lotus-Renault + 1 lap 19. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault + 2 laps 20. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps 21. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps 22. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth + 5 laps Fastest lap: Webber, 1:29.703 Not classified/retirements: Driver Team On lap Di Resta Force India-Mercedes 45 Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1 World Championship standings, round 4: Drivers: 1. Vettel 93 2. Hamilton 59 3. Webber 55 4. Button 46 5. Alonso 41 6. Massa 24 7. Petrov 21 8. Heidfeld 21 9. Rosberg 20 10. Kobayashi 8 11. Buemi 6 12. Schumacher 6 13. Sutil 2 14. Di Resta 2 Constructors: 1. Red Bull-Renault 148 2. McLaren-Mercedes 105 3. Ferrari 65 4. Renault 42 5. Mercedes 26 6. Sauber-Ferrari 8 7. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6 8. Force India-Mercedes 4