Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button put on a show for the fans in Turkey, but when they finished battling with each other they were back where they started and Sebastian Vettel was the unchallenged winner.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh summed it up ruefully: “Well, we qualified fourth and sixth, and we finished fourth and sixth. And, although clearly we’d hoped to score considerably more than the 20 points we netted as a result, both our drivers drove hard and well all afternoon.
“I’m sure their contribution to a race that included lots of action and no fewer than 80 pitstops was a very significant one in terms of providing entertainment for grandstand spectators and TV viewers alike.”
Be that as it may, their race contributed very little to preventing Red Bull galloping off into the distance as potential driver and constructor champions this year.
Vettel was never troubled for the win, even having the luxury of being able to fit in a fourth pitstop for fresh tyres just in case it was needed. It wasn’t, but his lead was sufficiently secure that he could have picked up a burger and fries and had his car valeted while he was at it, and still resumed the race with no fear of defeat.
His team-mate Mark Webber had to work slightly harder for his second place, being overtaken by Nico Rosberg at the start and later by Fernando Alonso, but was able to easily re-pass both as the performance-enhancing drag reduction system (DRS) made defensive driving an impossibility.
Behind the Red Bulls the rest of the field rose and fell with confusing regularity as their tyres wore out and were replaced, most opting to make four stops and regain lost places via DRS.
Alonso proved best of the rest, taking Ferrari’s first podium of the year, and Rosberg earned fifth by running an alternate strategy to his rivals and finishing the race on the softer, quicker tyres.
The McLaren drivers saw their hopes disappear gradually, as even Button’s famously tyre-friendly driving style could not make a three-stop strategy work, while Hamilton lost places at the start while battling Webber, then fell victim to a sticking wheel nut that slowed one his stops.
Along the way, their fiercest battles were often with each other – although Hamilton twice came close to making contact with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa in the pits.
Whitmarsh said: “At Vodafone McLaren Mercedes we’ve traditionally never sought to prevent our drivers from racing each other – and they certainly did that today. It was good to see. They get on extremely well off the track, as I think everyone knows, but on the track they’re as keen to beat each other as they are to beat any other driver, and that’s the way it should be.
“Although we weren’t quite as quick as the Red Bull and the Ferrari this afternoon, Lewis’s four-stop race pace was strong; Jenson was the quickest of the three-stoppers, but with hindsight it probably wasn’t the optimal strategy and consequently he struggled a bit – through no fault of his own.
“So, looking forward to the Spanish Grand Prix, we’ll continue to push extremely hard from a car-development point of view, and we intend to be competitive in Barcelona.
“We lie second in the constructors’ world championship, and Lewis lies second in the drivers’ world championship too, but we’ll continue to do all we can to convert both those seconds to firsts during the rest of the season.”
Hamilton said: “I got a pretty decent start but made a mistake on the opening lap and lost a lot of ground out of Turn Three when I was trying to go around Webber. That was the defining moment of my afternoon – if I hadn’t dropped behind Fernando and Jenson, I think I could have got up to third and battled for second in the race.
“The battle with Jenson was good and fair, as always, but that, and the fact that I had too much front-wing dialled into my car meant I struggled to look after the rear tyres, so my tyres were finished and that’s what kick-started the four-stop strategy.
“Considering the time I lost at my third stop, I think we recovered reasonably well. I don’t think that made a huge difference to our overall finishing position, and I was quite happy with the way the car behaved once we’d taken out some wing.
“We were definitely able to do better today – but to start fourth and sixth and finish fourth and sixth was a good recovery.”
Button said his slower pace at the end of the race was a direct result of his success in protecting his tyres at the start of the race: “It’s a pity to finish so far back after everything in the first stint seemed to go so well. Strategy-wise, I don’t think we got it right today.
“My battle with Lewis was great fun and I there was a lot of excitement on the track, but I was disappointed to finish where I did – the car felt very good but we just went the wrong way on strategy.
“I think most people probably started the race aiming for a three-stopper but, because many of them damaged their tyres in the first stint, they changed their approach. We didn’t, and I was able to put a couple of laps on everyone and my tyres still felt pretty good – but I felt the next two stops were earlier than the tyres could have done, which is disappointing.
“We didn’t leave the stops late enough – the tyres were still good at the end of every stop, so we should have stayed out longer because it just made the last stint extremely difficult.
“During the final stint, I was trying to get the best out of the car but it’s so hard because the difference in pace between a fresh and used set of tyres is so great.”
Force India’s Paul di Resta failed to finish a Grand Prix for the first time in his F1 career after his team spotted a problem with the car and instructed him to pull over. He said: “It was a tough start to the race, although 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 and make a fourth stop.
“When I was leaving the pits after my final stop, the team came on the radio and instructed me to stop. There was obviously a problem so I pulled up as soon as I could. It was unfortunate because the final part of the race would have been interesting on the fresh tyres.”