Turkey GP Preview: Can Massa Win for the Fourth Time in Istanbul?

Daniel ChalmersSenior Analyst IJune 3, 2009

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 11:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Ferrari drives on his way to winning the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at Istanbul Park on May 11, 2008, in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

This weekend, Formula One heads to Istanbul for the fifth Turkish GP, and Round Seven of the 2009 championship. Istanbul Park is yet another circuit designed by F1 designer Hermann Tilke. However this track is different from his others in that the drivers all seem to like it, and that it doesn’t have a gigantic pit straight.

Istanbul Park is acknowledged by drivers as the best out of the new modern tracks in Formula One. It runs in an anti-clockwise direction, and has a mix of fast and slow corners. There are also a lot of elevation changes throughout the lap which adds to the challenge and character of the circuit.

The best section by far, ask any of the current F1 boys, is turn eight, which is a long high speed triple apex corner. To add to the challenge it is blind and quite bumpy. This corner is up there with the finest in F1 including Eau Rouge at Spa and 130R at Suzuka. Drivers are subject to around 5g through here every lap.

Overtaking is difficult but not impossible. The best place is into turn 12 at the end of the long back straight. We have seen many out-braking moves there in the past. Turn One and turn nine also represent half chances.

The circuit is very demanding on the car and drivers. The anti-clockwise configuration makes life very hard for the driver’s neck muscles, as clockwise circuits dominate the calendar. Along with the high G forces in turn eight, and the heat expected at this time of the year, make this race one of the most physical on the calendar.

For the car the circuit is very punishing on the tyres. The tyres are worked extremely hard through the long turn eight. The heat and amount of time spent on full throttle makes life hard for the engines.

The brakes also take a battering due to several big braking zones in the lap. Setting up the car will be crucial to deal with the mix of corners. The drivers want a car that works well throughout the lap.

The big question this weekend again is can anybody stop Brawn GP and Jenson Button?

Englishman Jenson Button is on a role at the moment. He is driving brilliantly, extracting the maximum from his car and not putting a foot wrong.

He has made no major error to speak of so far this season Of course he does have the quickest and most robust car on the grid at the moment, but it is not fastest by an enormous margin. This makes his achievements so far quite remarkable. In F1, you have to seize the moment when it arrives and this is exactly what Button has done so far.

In Turkey, he perhaps faces his stiffest opposition so far this season and consequently the race has the potential to be the most open race so far.

Red Bull Racing struggled in Monaco on a track which did not suit the characteristics of their car. However, Istanbul is a fast track where aero efficiency plays a major role. The Red Bull duo should fly around here. Their new double-deck diffuser will also make a more noticeable difference here.

They will really fancy their chances of winning this weekend. It’s very important that they do start winning if they are to have any hope of catching Brawn GP in the championship. This race and the next one in Silverstone could critical to their season. A couple of wins, and a title challenge is on. No wins and their challenge could be all but over.

Ferrari are likely to also be a huge threat this weekend. After a terrible start to the season Ferrari have fought back brilliantly. Since the start of season they have gained around a second in performance.

In Monaco, their pace was very close to that of the Brawn GPs and were definitely the best of the rest. They were only 0.1 to 0.2 seconds behind. KERs should also be more useful in Turkey than in previous races, which will add to Ferrari’s victory chances.

Felipe Massa has won the last three Turkish GPs. He obviously knows his way around Istanbul Park better than anyone else. His maiden F1 victory was here in 2006 where he out-raced then championship contenders Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso. In 2007, he out-muscled his team mate Kimi Raikkonen in a straight duel.

Then in 2008 he claimed the hat-trick by beating Lewis Hamilton. Only a fool would rule out his chances of winning for an unprecedented fourth time in a row. He will be one to watch.

McLaren looked strong in Monaco but unfortunately Lewis Hamilton lost the opportunity for a great result, after he crashed at Mirabeau in qualifying. Hamilton will be seriously regretting missing that chance, as Istanbul will reveal the shortcomings of his McLaren just as Catalunya did.

McLaren 's aero efficiency is still poor. Small points are the best Hamilton can hope for this weekend.

BMW Sauber and Toyota both suffered horrendous weekends in Monte-Carlo, and they will want to quickly rectify that. BMW Sauber will be introducing their double diffuser this weekend. Ideally this will give between 0.5 seconds to 1.0 second per lap so they will definitely move up the order this weekend.

Toyota appears to have fallen back since the big upgrades came in Spain. Istanbul should suit their car better than Monaco did, but it’s hard to see them challenging for victory this weekend.

Williams have been the free practice champions this year, and in Monaco finally converted their Friday form to a points finish. They will be hoping for a similar showing this weekend.

Force India got both cars into Q2 in Monaco, which was a great achievement for the team. If they could do that on a standard track like Istanbul it would show tremendous progress. However that may be a tall order, as Toyota and BMW Sauber will not be as poor as they were in Monaco.

Toro Rosso should also be quite competitive too. Sebastien Bourdais will want to add to his hard fought point in Monaco, and banish rumours that he has fallen out with the team while Sébastien Buemi will work hard to erase memories of a rookie mistake at the principality.

Fernando Alonso is adamant that Renault will compete for wins later on in the season just like in 2008. But Renault is still a million miles away from the front. Points are the best Fernando can hope for right now.

The smart prediction is that this will be a very closely fought and exciting race weekend. Brawn GP will still be very strong due to their ability to look after their tyres better than anyone else.

On a track where tyre wear is high this makes them very competitive. However Ferrari and Red Bull look in great shape, and will be challenging closely for victory. Saturday afternoon qualifying, in particular, will be very tight.

Four or five drivers could win the 2009 Turkish GP which makes this the hardest race to predict so far this season.

Personally I am sticking my neck out and predicting that Brawn GP’s supremacy will be halted this weekend and that Felipe Massa’s Turkey dominance will continue.

My top 6 prediction

1.       Felipe Massa

2.       Sebastien Vettel

3.       Jenson Button

4.       Mark Webber

5.       Rubens Barrichello

6.       Robert Kubica


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