Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate will find out on Friday whether or not he will be taking part in the Turkish Grand Prix.
According to a pre-race statement released by the team, Heikki Kovalainen will be required to pass the mandatory FIA fitness checks following his horrendous 150-mph collision with the tyre wall at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Such neurological and physiological checks are required after any concussion and Kovalainen is due to be assessed at the Istanbul circuit on Thursday May 8.
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren CEO, said the team had “a plan in place” should the Finn be declared unfit – but did not reveal what. However it would not take a mind-reader to visualise lead tester Pedro de la Rosa lining up on the starting grid.
Whoever does start the race alongside Hamilton will be driving the spare car. Whitmarsh added: “Heikki’s car from Spain was transferred back to the McLaren Technology Centre arriving lunchtime on the Monday following the race.
“Every part was immediately quarantined whilst the forensic analysis into the cause of the incident is completed. This is usual practice and some components may be salvaged in due course.
“In the meantime, the spare chassis that was in Spain is in the process of being built into a complete MP4-23, which Heikki will race, all being well, in Turkey.”
Asked how he was recovering in the run-up to the event Kovalainen said: “I am feeling good, the stiffness in my neck has pretty much gone and I have been back training.
“I left Spain on Thursday and went back to Finland where I have spent some time working with the team doctor at our facility there on ensuring I am fit for the race. Initially during the week we were doing some light training before starting on my full programme just before the weekend.
“Lewis will also be here over the weekend doing his training before the race. Next stage for me is the fitness test at the track in Turkey on Thursday with the FIA.
“I can’t wait to get back into the car and race with the team next weekend, but at the end of the day that decision is out of my hands, the FIA will make it based on safety grounds only.”
While Kovalainen works on his fitness, Hamilton is pondering race strategy.
He said: “Qualifying was surprising close in Spain, both at the front of the grid and in the midfield. Whilst there are clear chances to overtake at the Istanbul Speed Park, it is going to be vital to qualify well.
“The balance of the car felt good in Spain, and this is really key at Turkey because of the high speed corners. You need to have a stable balance to be quick through them, such as turn three.
“You also need a very stable car through turn eight, to ensure you conserve your Bridgestone Potenzas and that you are able to carry speed through there. This section of the track is key as you can gain a lot of time.”
He said that tyre conservation will be important – but that he was not worried by the anti-clockwise direction of the circuit, which is different from the majority of the race tracks on the calendar.
“It is inevitable that the right side of your next gets stronger. As a result, you do need to prepare the left side of your neck a little bit more to make sure that it doesn’t weaken over the course of the race weekend. I have spent some time doing this with my trainer since Spain so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
And he is looking forward to returning to Istanbul: “It is a fantastic circuit. It is quite demanding, particularly through turn eight, but it provides a good challenge. I always look forward to the race and hope to improve on last year’s result.
“I also hope to have Heikki alongside me for the race so we can get a good joint result for the team, I know he has a final check at the track on Thursday so we will have to wait and see until then.”
The Honda team says in its pre-race statement that the anti-clockwise direction of Istanbul Park, with its eight left-handed corners, has no direct bearing on car set-up.
However, it points out that the most significant challenge to be met by teams and drivers will be found in Turn 8: “The cars and drivers pull up to 5G for seven seconds through this triple-apex left-hander, making it one of the most physical corners in the world for the drivers.
“The minimum speed through here is 155mph, but that’s not the reason why it’s a key corner from a technical point of view. A mid-corner bump, when the car is fully loaded, forces the engineers not to set the ride height too low and that punishes the car’s handling through other corners.
“A pre-requisite for a competitive lap time… is good car balance because there are a number of 180-degree corners that reward good handling. Then there’s the slow left-right-left sequence at the end of the lap that leads the cars back onto the pit straight.
“The braking point into this section sees the cars slow from 300kph (186mph) down to 80kph (50mph), which makes it the best overtaking point on the lap.”
Jenson Button says that Istanbul is one of his favourite events: “I’ve had a couple of good results here in 2005 and 2006, finishing in the top five on both occasions.
“The track layout is excellent with the changes in elevation making it a tough but enjoyable circuit for the drivers. There are some really good overtaking opportunities at turn one and turn three, with a chance of passing into turns nine and twelve if you get it right.”
He said that, following on from a major car upgrade at the Spanish Grand Prix, plus a new aero package, he is expecting to be driving a competitive car.
“The car that we take to Turkey will be essentially the same package, therefore our focus will be getting onto Q3 and qualifying in the top ten. Turkey is a circuit that I have always been competitive at, and really enjoy driving, so I am hopeful that we will have a good race.”
Team principal Ross Brawn added: “I am expecting the RA108 to perform slightly better around Istanbul Park than in Barcelona, where we suffered with ride quality over the bumpy surface, so I believe we can look forward to challenging for the top ten in qualifying and hopefully scoring points again.”
“We were extremely pleased to pick up our first points of the season in Barcelona and it was just reward for the efforts that everyone has put in over the last few months.
“Of course, there are challenges to be overcome, however I am confident we have the right attitude and commitment to resolve these. There is tremendous potential in this team and our three points in Barcelona was the first step at the start of a very intense few months of racing.”
At time of writing Red Bull Racing had not issued an official race preview. However there is an audio file on the team’s website describing some of the challenges of transporting equipment to Turkey – listen here.
It is fair to assume that the team will be looking to build on the strong qualifying and point-scoring performance put in by Mark Webber in Barcelona.
David Coulthard, by contrast, will be looking to rescue his season after a series of racing incidents and qualifying mishaps which have threatened to cloud his post-McLaren renaissance with the team.
It will also be interesting to observe how the RB4 can stand up to challenges from teams like Toyota and Renault. It was thought that improvements introduced before Barcelona had put Red Bull on a much stronger footing – but, of course, Renault have found a performance boost of their own.