Istanbul 2009 Turkish GP Istanbul Park

Hasn’t three weeks felt like an eternity?

After a truly extraordinary Chinese Grand Prix, it’s hard to think just how this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix could deliver even more on-track action for drivers and fans. But there’s plenty of reason to believe that the upward swing will continue as the circus makes its first visit to the first of a series of ‘European’ races.

Most teams bring their first major upgrades after a series of flyaway races (thereby bringing the teams closer to one another in outright performance), and tyres will play a huge factor in determining the outcome of this weekend’s 58-lap race.

Let’s have a look at all of the action that lays ahead for this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix…


The Circuit

2011 Formula 1 DHL Turkish Grand Prix
Istanbul Circuit Map
Date: 8 May 2011 No. Laps 58
Lap Length: 5.338km Race Distance: 309.396km
Lap Record: 1:24.770, Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren) – 2005

To say that Hermann Tilke’s Istanbul Park circuit was a breath of fresh air when it arrived on the F1 landscape in 2001 would indeed be an example of true understatement.

By this point, the sport’s interest in the German’s circuit designs had quickly begun to falter, but fans and insiders were thrilled with what they saw when they first arrived in Turkey.

A lap onboard Istanbul Park with Felipe Massa

Featuring a host of corner types, elevation changes and brimful of overtaking opportunities, the circuit was a throwback to the classic road circuits of previous decades, and certainly not in keeping with his usual formulaic designs.

His masterpiece corner on the circuit is Turn 8, a quadruple-apex downhill left-hander taken at some 260km/h or more. It’s physically punishing on drivers and it is murder to the cars’ right-hand tyres.

Before this, the first sector of the circuit is quite a twisty, but high-speed, sequence of corners that take the circuit to the bottom of a hill before the track begins its ascent after Turn 9. The high-speed stretch of the track is the kinked back straight that features a tight hairpin at the end – a great spot for overtaking, and perhaps one or two crashes…


Memorable Moments

Last year’s race was one of the best of the season, and you could throw a blanket over the leading Red Bulls and McLarens on race day.

Mark Webber skipped into a early lead, but he was steadily closed down by team-mate Vettel and the chasing McLaren pair of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

With the Australian heading a four-car train battling for the lead, Vettel attempted to pass Webber on the back straight and the pair inexplicably collided, putting Vettel out Vettel and Webber famously collided at last year's raceof the race, sending Webber into the pits, and gifting the McLarens an unexpected 1-2.

Commonsense laid the blame firmly at the feet of Vettel, but the factions within the Red Bull camp reared their head and blamed Webber, trigger months of destabilisation and accusations of favouritism from both camps that would last for the rest of the year.

But the racing wasn’t over yet, as McLaren very nearly set about trying to repeat the error, where Hamilton and Button raced wheel-to-wheel, and sometimes a little too close for comfort…

What were some of the highlights from previous races at Istanbul? Let’s relive a few of the better races…

  • 2005: The inaugural race at Turkey saw McLaren and Kimi Räikkönen desperately needing a good result at the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix to keep them in the championship hunt against Renault’s Fernando Alonso. So when team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya squandered a possible 1-2 after tangling with Tiago Monteiro as he lapped the Portuguese driver in the closing stages, there were a few upset faces on the Finn’s side of the garage…
  • 2006: After spending his maiden season as a Ferrari driver largely existing as a dutiful number-two to Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa took advantage of his team-mate’s qualifying error and a fortunately-times safety car interruption to brilliantly take his first F1 win from pole position. Having made his mark in Turkey, Felipe set about winning the next two races at the same circuit, making him the only multiple winner here.


Istanbul Talking Points

This year’s event will really bring three talking points to the forefront:

  • How much of a factor will tyre wear play? Most teams believe that Turkey’s layout will present an enormous challenge to managing their tyres this weekend, with the much-vaunted Turn 8 being the biggest culprit in affecting tyre wear. Teams will try a host of set-up configurations to minimise tyre wear, and some outfits may also opt for unusual race strategies to optimise their race-day performance.
  • Could wet weather make an appearance? Despite forecasts of mixed conditions at each of the three previous rounds to-date in 2011, the Pirelli wet-weather tyres haven’t yet had a workout in Grand Prix conditions. But the word on the street is that wet weather will almost certainly act as a joker in the pack at several points during the weekend, and it’s also said that the rain can really lash down on the circuit when it does…
  • Could this be the last race here? Bad event promotion, high ticket prices and a lack of local motorsport culture has seen local fans stay away from the circuit in their droves. Coupled with this, Bernie Ecclestone is trying to wrangle a double-sized annual fee from local organisers, who are threatening to pull the pin on future races. If only the circuit could be teleported to another country…

So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?

Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent

“McLaren have smelled blood in the water, a wound in the previously impenetrable Red Bulls and will be looking to build on that, ideally with back-to-back wins. My prediction is another Lewis Hamilton win.

“Elsewhere, I’m predicting an edge-of-the-seat race all around – something that the Turkish GP organisers will be proud of, not to mention something they will be able to use to their advantage in their negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone to keep the race on the calendar.

Qualifying could also spring a few surprises, and I predict a big name will fail to make it out of Q1.” 

Joseph, Richard’s F1 Technical Correspondent

“First race back on the European continent will see teams bring significant upgrades (or at least they hope) to their 2011 challengers. It will be interesting in free practice and qualifying to see if McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes GP, and Renault can challenge Red Bull’s raw pace? McLaren showed yet again that they can develop on the run, coupled with a superior tyre strategy saw them walk away with the last GP.

“Tyre wear will be a determining factor, with high wear corners like Turn 8 taking its toll on the outside tyres. Has Red Bull fixed their unreliable KERS?

“My view is still that the Red Bulls have the raw speed in their car and are still the ones to beat at present. McLaren the strongest challenger. Good luck to all.”

Jen, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia

“As much as I’m lamenting the return to night-time races for Australian TV viewers, I’m happy to have the races back in Europe with Istanbul being one of my favourite tracks.  I’m a huge fan of the sweeping left-hander at Turn 8 and the final turn complex of Turns 12-14, so I hope this isn’t the final race we see at this circuit.

“I’m looking forward to seeing if Ferrari have made enough improvements (as they have been touting recently) in the three-week break to be able to better their qualifying form and challenge for podiums.  I’m also wondering if Robert Kubica will put in an appearance in the pits now that he has left hospital to keep up appearances with Renault?”

Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia

“A year on since that famous crash between Vettel and Webber and we return to Turkey. Despite the rather fake niceties between the two of them, you sense that little has been forgiven – or forgotten – between the two. Webber’s brilliant recovery drive at China was about the best I’ve seen from him, but his public declaration that it was good news that Vettel was beaten may not have gone down too well.

Nonetheless, Webber’s confidence will be sky high after his outing at China, and he’ll certainly be hoping to go to the top of the podium here this weekend.”


The Form Guide

While the development race will have kicked off as soon as the first race in Australia got underway, this weekend’s Grand Prix is the first real opportunity to look at what each of the teams has been working hard on back at their respective factories to improve their championship prospects.

Time stands still for no one in motorsport, and the likes of Red Bull – in comparison to their rivals – will have less to gain from modifying a near-perfect car.

McLaren’s pre-Australia overhaul brought it a huge turnaround in performance relative to its woeful pre-season testing form, but even it will need to keep up the pace if it wants to remain near the front.

Ferrari is a team looking to join them and rediscover the pace it seems to have lost since pre-season testing, while Renault will be looking to bounce back after a less-than-impressive weekend at Shanghai.

Mercedes GP will be feeling confident after its most competitive showing at the last race, and the team is coming to Istanbul with an assortment of new parts that it hopes can finally bring it a race win.

Meanwhile, for those further down their grid – particularly at Williams and Virgin Racing, which have endured appalling starts to their championship seasons – it’s about regaining competitiveness – or at the very least, respectability – as they seek to get back in the midfield mix.

As always, Richard’s F1 will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Turkish Grand Prix fix!

[Images via LAT, Sutton Images, The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.