F1: Istanbul race is Massa’s – or Ferrari’s – to lose

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarWednesday, June 3rd, 2009

 
 

If it’s the Turkish Grand Prix then the man with the heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders must be Jens… No, wait, it’s Felipe Massa.

That’s as true this year as last, when doubters were talking about the eventual world championship contender losing his drive with Ferrari.

Then Massa proved that Istanbul Park is simply his circuit. He’s won the race three of the four times it has been staged.

And who won the other one? Kimi Raikkonen, although he was still driving for McLaren at the time.

The race that Massa and Raikkonen have dominated since 2004 is happening just as Ferrari gets its act together with a car that can challenge the early-season leaders.

Hmm. What do you reckon is going to go wrong? Pit-lane cock-up? Refuelling troubles? Poor tyre strategy? Wrecked quali session?

Or are we on for the kind of Italian one-two that looked a total impossibility just one month ago?

And where will that leave Jenson Button? Despite the development work going on at Brackley, it is possible that Brawn GP may soon buckle under the pressure of keeping its car ahead of its better-funded competitors.

On the other hand, the team is riding high on 86 points in the constructors’ championship, and on recent form can reasonably hope to clear 100 points this weekend. Jenson Button is currently on 51, more than half way to Lewis Hamiltons’ 2008 championship-winning total of 98.

Speaking in Brawn GP’s pre-race preview, team principal Ross Brawn said: “Monaco was a wonderful weekend with Jenson and Rubens, the team, and our engine partner Mercedes-Benz performing at the top of their game to bring home our third one-two finish of the season.

“However Monaco is a unique track and we know that our competitors will be very strong in Turkey this weekend.

“Development work on the BGP 001 car has continued apace at the factory and we will be bringing a new front wing to Turkey along with some aerodynamic updates and new rear suspension elements.”

He said the high-speed sections and the slower turns at the end of the modern Istanbul Park circuit would present “an interesting engineering challenge” for the team.

Driver Jenson Button added: “The Turkish Grand Prix is always a race that I look forward to as I really enjoy driving the Istanbul Park circuit and have been quite competitive there in the past.

“Hermann Tilke did a great job with the layout of the track here and the changes in gradient are great fun and quite challenging for the drivers.

“We’ve seen some excellent racing at Istanbul Park with good overtaking opportunities at turns one and three. You can also pass down the hill into turn nine and at turns twelve and thirteen if you brake late enough and get it just right.”

He said the circuit’s much-discussed turn eight was probably the longest he has ever driven.

“It’s quite high G-force, up to 5G for seven seconds, which puts a lot of stress on your neck. You have to be as smooth as possible through the triple apex and if you get it right and take it flat, then it is one of those corners where you exit with a huge smile having made up a lot of time.”

Istanbul Park, a fast and aerodynamically-challenging circuit, is almost guaranteed to play to the weaknesses in McLaren’s MP4-24, which means another potentially grim weekend for Lewis Hamilton.

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said in his team’s preview: “The Istanbul Park circuit is one of the most challenging modern circuits for both teams and drivers.

“Firstly, it’s a real set-up challenge – you need to find a handling balance between the high-speed corners, the slower, infield section and the long straights. In addition, tyre-wear, particularly to the heavily loaded front-right through turn eight, is a crucial factor in determining overall strategy.

“For the drivers, a combination of multi-apex and blind corners adds to the challenge. We go to Turkey in the knowledge that the track characteristics are a bit less likely to suit our package than Monaco, but we are improving all the time, have several minor upgrades for MP4-24 and look forward to assessing our competitiveness against our rivals.”

Hamilton added: “I love racing in Turkey: it’s a real challenge because you need to attack the lap to get a good time, but you also need to be careful with your tyres. If you push too much, particularly through turn eight, then your tyres are going to suffer.

“It’s all about finding the perfect balance in practice and being disciplined in the race so you don’t overdo it. I also love the fact that it’s a new circuit that has really captured the flavour of some of the older, classic tracks -it’s got a bit of everything and is fantastic to drive.

“Also, as it’s anti-clockwise, it gives your neck a bit of a workout – but you just need to make sure you’ve exercised the left side of your neck a little more than usual before getting in the car.”

He’s definitely taking the positives, isn’t he? Keep it up, Lewis. Keep it up.

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