By Matt Bishop, England
F1 Racing Editor in Chief
The new Istanbul track excites F1 Racing's editor in chief, and he looks at what awaits the drivers this weekend, at the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix
The spelling of Turkish is, I gather, unfalteringly phonetic, and I very much hope the Istanbul Otodrom does what it says on the tin.
It is, of course, a (Hermann) Tilke-drome (Tilkedrom?) - and, as such, it has two long straights, each of which is followed by a tight turn (Turns 1 and 12). Unlike other Tilkedroms, however, it has gradient. Hills. Uphill and downhill, and many of 'em. The section between Turns 4 and 7, for example, is a long, sweeping, downhill rollercoaster of a road. Turns 5 and 6 are apparently fabulous - in reality they're one double-apex corner, a bit like Pouhon at Spa.
Turn 8, too, is very much not the usual Tilke fare. A long, multi-apex, 180-degree loop, it's a bit like Spoon at Suzuka, I'm told (or the Karussell at Anderstorp, perhaps). This is the kind of corner that best illustrates what rot people are talking when they insist that all drivers drive the same; here you'll see different lines, different gear selections, different braking points, different approaches, (many) different apex points, different acceleration paths... as some drivers optimise their turn-in and others aim for a fast exit. And, since the straight that leads into Turn 9 is a short one, albeit downhill and spectacularly steep (almost 1 in 10), there will probably be no right answer and no wrong answer.
Braking for Turn 9 should be spectacular in the late stages of the race, as drivers grapple with poor braking grip on worn tyres, and run side-by-side with rivals through Turn 10, an uphill right that follows almost immediately the steep downhill left that is Turn 9.
Turn 11 should be flat in the dry, but will be no less spectacular for that. A right-hander, its entry is downhill but its exit is uphill. Steeply uphill. As a result of the consequent compression on exit, one car may be able to follow another closely through here, dirty air or no dirty air, facilitating overtaking into Turn 12, for which a truly huge stop will be required.
I can't wait.
So... who'll do well? In the old days new circuits, like new rules, used to favour Ferrari. Now, they tend to favour Bridgestone, which is much the same thing. Had Indy-gate not given Michelin's grandest of grands fromages the fright of their lives, I would perhaps have made so bold as to predict that the Otodrom's sidewall-stuffing compressions would make the Michelins a bit marginal; now, though, the men from Clermont have surely learnt their lesson, so I'm not so sure.
Even so, the Bridgestone is likely to be the more durable tyre, which will pay dividends in the late stages of the race, especially in the tricky downhill braking sections. Michael Schumacher - and, yes, BAR-Honda's new man Rubens Barrichello, too - could well be in good shape come lap 58. Incidentally, the intense heat that had been forecasted (42 degrees Celsius, no less) might not now eventuate, which could help Bridgestone, too. The weather services predict daytime temperatures in Istanbul of 29-31 degrees Celsius over the next few days with heavy cloud cover for Sunday...
Whatever, McLaren will be on the pace, of course, and the amazing Kimi Raikkonen will already be super-quick on, say, his third flying lap. Juan Pablo Montoya will be on it, too. As will Renault's Fernando Alonso.
Otherwise, there will be an uncommonly large number of dissatisfied drivers around. Giancarlo Fisichella will be hoping that the Otodrom will be the stage on which he can at last show the world, without bad luck thwarting him, that he really is as good as his all-conquering teammate - but he'll have to do so at the same time as trying to scotch rumours that insist he will be fired come season's end. Takuma Sato will be similarly troubled - but with better reason.
Jenson Button? Well, as per usual, Jenson will be in the thick of things - and none of it will be good for his race effort, his peace of mind or his reputation. Pity.
The Williams men will be struggling, as usual. Nick Heidfeld will be cosying-up to Mario Theissen, the better to smooth his passage to BMW next year, but poor old Mark Webber will sport a furrowed brow all weekend. Like Giancarlo, he, too, will be the focus of rumour-mongers' attentions. Will he replace Giancarlo at Renault? Etcetera...
Jacques Villeneuve will be insisting to anyone who'll listen that he'll definitely be a BMW driver in 2006 - and he might be right. On the other hand...
His teammate, meanwhile, will be one of the few smiling faces. Is Felipe Massa the world's luckiest man?
Maybe; maybe not. Personally, I don't think he'll get anywhere near Michael Schumacher next year. And, if I'm right, and if Ferrari and Bridgestone come up with a decent package for 2006, then Felipe's failure to keep Schumi in sight will be a fittingly triumphant end to one of the most remarkable careers in F1 history (Schumi's, not Massa's!).
That renaissance could start this weekend...